NA Participates in Successful People of Color Conference

Thirteen adult members of the Newark Academy community attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC), while six students attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) November.
The flagship of NAIS’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning, this year’s PoCC theme was “Equitable Schools and Inclusive Communities: Harmony Discord & the Notes in Between.” Through workshops, networking events, seminars, speaker presentations and group work, the conference equipped NA leadership, staff and faculty members with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to enhance the school culture. 
 
NA students who attended SDLC had ample opportunities to enhance their cross-cultural communications skills and gained a better understanding of the development of effective strategies for social justice. 
 
We asked NA student Monica Zhang ’21, Humanities Department Chair Jeff Vinikoor and Alumni Board of Governors member Kumar Ghafoor ’10 a couple of the same questions before and after the trip to get different perspectives. Here’s what the three had to say:

What are you looking forward to most out of the PoCC?
Monica: “I am most looking forward to the opportunities to discuss topics regarding diversity with students from different schools. As this year's theme is entitled "Listening for the Grace Note: Finding Harmony Amid Cacophony," I'm excited to focus on the current atmosphere revolving topics that affect minorities such as immigration and racial injustice.”
Jeff: “I'm looking forward to learning more about how we, as a school community, can ensure that all students and faculty feel a sense of belonging and ownership both in and out of the classroom. Our Humanities program plays a unique role in that ongoing effort.”
Kumar: “I’m most looking forward to getting to know current NA students and hearing their stories.”

What are you expecting to get from the conference?
Monica: “I hope to come back to the NA community with the skills to communicate cross-culturally and successfully assess a situation concerning injustice and determine an appropriate resolution.”
 
Jeff: “I've heard from past PoCC attendees about the dual nature of the conference: on the one hand it brings together some of the sharpest minds in the independent school community to teach about issues of equity and inclusion, and on the other hand it invites participates to reflect, quite personally, on their own identities.”
 
Kumar: “Hearing how other independent schools have fostered diversity. Things such as hurdles they’ve faced and any solutions that have been discovered.”
What was the highlight of the conference for you?
Monica: “The highlight of SDLC was getting to know all the people in your family group. Because your family groups were made up of different students from different schools, I immediately felt safe because there were no expectations - it was a clean slate for everyone to flourish upon. At its core, SDLC is about the people attending. I loved sharing and connecting through similar experiences, as well as bonding through emotions that we were all feeling.”
 
Jeff: “For me, the highlight of the conference was hearing from our students, who attended the SLDC while I and the other NA adults were at the People of Color Conference. The students had spent several days reflecting on their own identities and the NA community. I was moved by their insights and willingness to share openly with the adults.”
Kumar: “The student presentation on Saturday morning.  I wish everyone in the NA community could have been there for that. One to witness how brilliant our students are but also to see how courageous they are to share their real experiences of NA. The students gave their presentation to all adults who attended the trip from NA, including the Upper School principal, teachers, parents, Trustee and Board Members, and the diversity director. The students showed such strength in their willingness to be vulnerable with us and I am filled with hope and energy after being present for it.”
What's something you learned that would be good to apply to the NA community?
Monica: “I learned how much I live in a bubble at NA, and I also learned how to listen. It was only through deep listening of others' struggles that I was able to open my eyes to the world around me and truly see how privileged I am within and without the NA community. Listening does not just mean hearing what someone is saying only to immediately reply and cut them off; to truly listen means to process someone's words and respond in a manner focusing on them and not yourself. I realized that when a friend tries to talk to me about an issue, I always try to relate it to a problem I experienced; however, I learned from SDLC that it is important to stop magnetizing your own problems, especially when your peers need you the most. I hope to share this skill of deep listening with my NA community.”
 
Jeff: “I was reminded that we in the NA community need to ensure that every student feels welcome and valued — and sometimes our students of color do not feel that way. I will continue to think about how we enact a culture, policies, and practices that make our school community a place in which all students can reach their potential.”
Kumar: “Everything at the conference. One thing though, was an anonymous reporting system. The reporting system today does not protect the person reporting the incident and that only leads to less things being told to the administration.”
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