Students, faculty, staff travel to Nashville for NAIS diversity conferences

Validating. Empowering. Eye-opening. Emotional. Brave. Truth. These were the words that junior Hannah Kim and fitness and wellness teacher Amelia Mathis used to describe their experiences at the National Association of Independent Schools‘ diversity conferences last week.

Six students and five faculty and staff members travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, for the Student Diversity Leadership Conference [SDLC] and People of Color Conference [PoCC]. Though SDLC is geared towards students and PoCC towards educators, the conferences this year both had themes relating to harmony and discord.

Faculty and staff members Amelia Mathis, Danielle LeNoir, Steven Jacobson, Gabrielle Dorsey and Avani Shah attended workshops to learn to “improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate” at their schools, according to the PoCC website.

Mathis, who has attended the conference for two years, said that sharing stories with other teachers helped her “think a little deeper.”

Six students attended the National Student Leadership Conference last week. Five faculty and staff members flew to Nashville with the students and attended the People of Color Conference. Photo courtesy of Kim.

“The whole experience, in itself, is very personal,” she said. “A lot of the conference [was] having to really look inward in what my beliefs are, and then the teaching comes out of that.”

SDLC, which juniors Hannah Kim and Kennede Tucker and seniors Megan Escobar, Sammy Raucher, Dani McMillion and Michele Chung attended, focuses on “self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community,” according to its website.

Throughout the day, students participated in activities related to identity. As part of the initiative to build communities, students selected affinity groups to attend. Raucher, who joined the multiracial affinity group, said that one of the most “impactful” moments of the conference was an activity in which students in her affinity group held hands with people who shared some aspect of their racial identity.

“It was so cool to be surrounded by so many people who shared in a lot of the same struggles as me,” she said. “We look so different, and we look so diverse, but we all have so many similar experiences.”

Raucher said that she and other student participants hope to create a multiracial club at Archer based off of the “connections” that she formed in her affinity group.

“I don’t really talk about that part of my identity that much,” Raucher said. “That was a community that I found at SDLC that I haven’t really had before, so to bring it back here would be really cool.”

Kim also said she had a meaningful experience within her affinity group in which a girl spoke “powerfully” about her experiences as an Asian.

“She was angry — she was emotional. That’s not the kind of Asians I’m so used to seeing in the media,” Kim said. “[Before SDLC,] I felt like I had to be quiet and I had to silence myself to fit the norm of what Asians are, so I feel like I’m in that community, but once I found a community of Asians that were loud, I felt like it was okay for me to be loud with them.”

One of the moments where Kim and the rest of the student participants were encouraged to be loud was during an assembly with the entire conference. Students were told to scream about how proud they were about themselves and how much they love themselves. Watch the video above to view footage of this moment.

Junior Kennede Tucker said that hearing about other students’ experiences made her feel grateful to be a student at Archer.

“There are a lot of people that I met at the conference who were really minorities. They’d be the only queer person at their school, or the only black person,” she said. “I just felt really lucky to have a community that I can identify with here at Archer.”

Correction statement (Dec. 8): An earlier version of this article misspelled Michele Chung’s name as Michelle Chung.