“The NAIS People of Color Conference is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools‘ commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.” – National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
On November 28, White Mountain faculty members travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in this year’s People of Color Conference. Lawrence Alexander (Director of Diversity and Inclusion) was joined by Barbara Buckley (Director of Residential Life), Eliot Taft (English Faculty), and Matthew Toms (Director of the Student Assistance Program).
Lawrence shared that this year’s conference saw more than 6,700 professional and student attendees, making it the largest PoCC to date. “We were treated to inspiring and challenging keynotes from Lisa Ling, Marian Wright Edelman, and Marc Lamont Hill. Hill provided the most relevant presentation for our work in independent schools. We discussed “Model Minority Syndrome” and “The TRUE Cost of Attending Independent Schools” for students of color.”
For English Faculty, Eliot Taft, this was his first experience attending the People of Color Conference. Last year, Eliot created a senior elective that focused on reading and studying the voices of underrepresented people in American literature.
“So began the journey last summer and this fall in creating a new senior elective: African American and Latin American Literature. The class has covered numerous black and Latinx writers who don’t normally show up in English classes, and it has given voice to these veins of American Literature that oftentimes goes unnoticed.
I had hoped to attend The People of Color Conference in Tennessee this year in order to better my understanding and teaching of writers of color. As a younger educator brought up in an independent school setting myself, this year’s PoCC in Nashville inspired and enlightened me in innumerable ways. What does it mean, and how does it affect a young person, when they find him or herself, during their most formative years, in a place where they immediately feel out of place? I spent the several days that I was in Tennessee attending as many workshops and lectures as possible, primarily focusing on increasing and promoting diverse curriculums in schools. If literature can serve any purpose, it ought to make someone feel less lonely. Above all, I learned last week how essential of a mission it is to give our students of color a voice in the classroom. I learned how to be a better teacher. A better educator. I learned and pushed myself on the importance of providing literature and stories for all my students, not just those who have already had their stories told.”
For Barbara and Matthew, they were able to bring back important considerations for both of their departments. Barbara explains, “There is an implicit sense of belonging that often provides white students with the confidence to try new things, even if they don’t have experience with that activity or role. If we don’t provide guidance and training for all students, particularly for those students of color who desire to have leadership positions, we will be doing all members of the community a disservice because we will not benefit from the knowledge, traditions and interests of all students.” Similarly, Matthew brings back his excitement, energy and awareness to how he can greater serve students in the Student Assistance Program (SAP) and beyond.
When reflecting back on the week, Lawrence shared, “This year I was most impacted by the courage of my colleagues. Each of them came back to campus inspired to affect change for all of our students by creating more equitable and inclusive communities at our school. In the coming months and years, we will be proud of the work that began at PoCC and more-so at the work we continue back on campus.”
We are excited to carry this energy through the remainder of the School year and beyond. To learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion and White Mountain click here.