A team of Gunston students and employees attended the National Association for Independent School’s flagship diversity conferences, the Student Diversity Leaders Conference (SDLC), and the People of Color Conference (PoCC) held November 30 through December 4th. The annual conferences (this year held virtually) gathered educators and students from around the world to discuss identity, equity, and justice in schools.
“This is the 10th year we’ve sent students and faculty to these conferences,” noted Head of School, John Lewis. “It is our mission (and duty) to educate our community to expect, navigate, and embrace difference in a thoughtful and civil manner, and these conferences are such a great starting point for many students.”
Rion McCluskey ’21, Lilli Ward ’21, Isabella De Leon ’22, Ashley Escobar ’22, Angelina Lin ’23, and Mekonnen Sahle-Selassie’ 23 attended SDLC and had the opportunity to hear from a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, develop cross-cultural communication skills, learn about effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles.
“My favorite part of the conference was a workshop that showed every participant how diverse the entire conference was,” said Sahle-Selassie ’23. “One thing I’d like to bring back to our school and emphasize is the fact that minorities face different problems and to educate everyone about these problems.”
Highlights include hearing from speakers including Dr. Rodney Glasgow, an experienced educator, trainer, and administrator for students and faculty in grades kindergarten through post-graduate. Dr. Glasgow is the founder of the Glasgow Group and currently serves as the Head of School at Sandy Springs Friends School in Maryland.
Lyla June, an Indigenous musician, scholar, and community organizer of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages was the keynote speaker. She blends studies in human ecology at Stanford University, graduate work in Indigenous pedagogy, and the traditional worldview she grew up with to inform her music, perspectives, and solutions. June is currently pursuing her doctoral degree, focusing on Indigenous food systems revitalization.
“She really opened my eyes about a lot of things I had never thought about before,” said Escobar.
The conference is well-known as a stepping stone for future leaders in independent schools. Alumni of the conference include Project Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham and NCAA athlete Schuyler Bailar, who recently spoke with Gunston students and faculty about his experiences.
After day two of the conference De Leon said, “I feel like I’m really starting to find my voice here.” Lin shared, “I knew students went to the conference and had a great time, but this is so much more inspiring and educational than I ever imagined.”
Dr. Sarah Lipchock who teaches Chemistry, and David Miller, Gunston’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, attended the PoCC for educators.
"The conference was a great opportunity to connect with other educators all over the country and hear the perspectives of so many people of color in our independent school community,” said Dr. Lipchock. “I am always trying to make improvements and changes in my classroom and this conference gave me the tools to look at how I teach, what I teach, and how I assess my students. I am really looking forward to putting what I learned into practice in order to create a more equitable classroom for all of my students.”
Dr. Lipchock cited several examples of strategies that can be implemented right away such as assigning very specific roles in group work with individual grades, focusing more on formative assessments and looking at growth rather than weighting a test grade too heavily, implementing flexible deadlines, ensuring that reading materials reflect a diverse group of scientists and discussing the challenges they faced as minorities in their field, and discussing the contributions of native populations to our understanding of science. “I am currently reading Native Science, Natural Laws of Interdependence by Gregory Cajete and it is so interesting how much of their understanding of nature has just been ignored by Western science,” adds Dr. Lipchock.
“The shared excitement between the students and educators is something that I cherish. This conference really helps us set the tone for the rest of our DEI programming for the year,” said Miller.
Professional development for both students and faculty are a big part of Gunston’s new DEI Strategic Plan, which includes a curriculum audit scheduled for the spring, the Student Diversity Leaders Speaker Series, and most recently, the TIDE Book Club (Talking About Identity, Diversity & Equity) which kicks off its first discussion in February.
For more information about Gunston’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, visit https://www.gunston.org/about/diversity (and join the new book club!).