Archer hosts annual Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Conference


Photo credit: Liz Haltrecht

Misha Mehta ’20 reads her poem, “A Letter to the British,” to the Archer community at the conference. Students from all grades were asked to perform at the conference.

Student, faculty and staff alike explored facets of identity during the annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference, which was held in place of classes on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Senior Sidney Velasquez, who was one of the student planners of the conference, said that a major goal was to “push” conversations beyond the surface level.

“We understand that many people walk into the conference with a pretty decent understanding of surface-level issues, so we strived to delve deeper this year,” Velasquez said. “By integrating student-led workshops, performances in the morning and more interactive debriefs, we were excited to see more engagement from all members of the Archer community.”

Head of School Elizabeth English started the day off with a speech focusing on the importance of diversity. She recounted a lack of openness at an independent school she worked at years ago in order to underscore the importance of the day’s theme, “Courage to Be.”

“Teachers and students who were not heterosexual couldn’t be open about who they were and it was really sad. Can you imagine that?” English said. “Something that is so essential and central to your identity and you can’t be open about that. The way that changed over the years is by people having the courage to tell their story and by others having the courage to hear them with an open heart. ”

The day consisted of two workshop periods, where students chose from a variety of options like “Shedding Light on Human Rights,” “The Elephant in the Room: Respectful Political Discourse at Archer” and “Let’s Talk Asian American.” Sophomore Nadia Charles attended a session called “Women and Domestic Violence,” which she found informative and surprising.

“I know a lot about domestic violence that I didn’t know before,” Charles said. “I thought it was only physical and that it only happened to women, but knowing that it is a high percentage of men that get assaulted and that are actually scared of women is very shocking to me.”

The upper school also watched the movie “The Hate U Give,” which chronicles a young black teenager finding her voice to speak out against police brutality.

“We felt that the movie effectively allowed for meaningful discussion because of the intricacies displayed. Additionally, we felt that the film was more approachable because of its narrative, ‘historical-fiction’ style,” Velasquez said. “We did not want two hours spent with students not enjoying the material, and we felt that a movie would successfully maintain engagement. We also felt that the controversies surrounding the movie, along with the content covered within it, allowed us to facilitate a nuanced discussion.”

Sophomore Mackenzie Turner watched “The Hate U Give” during the conference and said she “really enjoyed” the film.

“I felt like it was an experience that all teens our age could relate to,” Turner said. “No matter what walk of life you come from, or what area you live in, you can find a part that relates to you and you can really learn about different parts of life that you may not experience on your day-to-day.”

Photo credit: Amelia Stone
Advisers gave students a pamphlet at the beginning of the day which featured the conference’s theme: “Courage to Be.” The booklet contained the day’s schedule and essential questions.

Junior Sarah Khneysser had seen the film prior to the conference but found new things to consider when she watched it again.

“Watching it again, and really picking up on little things, just made me realize how much is going on that I don’t know about,” Khneysser said. “Even though I couldn’t relate to the movie in the sense of race, I could in a way that we go to a white, privileged school… I feel like I don’t realize the struggles for other people… [The movie] made me realize a lot that I really didn’t think of before.”

The middle school watched “Right Footed,” a documentary about Jessica Cox, a woman born without legs and arms. Eighth-grader Lucy Brodsky said the film was “enlightening.”

“It was really inspiring how even though the main character was disabled, she was still able to spread courage,” Brodsky said.

At the end of the conference, students participated in different reflection processes, which ranged from dance to journaling to open session. Senior Ella Tollman participated in the open session, which she found helpful.

“We spoke about our feelings towards the day and the movie we watched and how it influenced us,” Tollman said. “It was just a really [supportive] environment even though it was a small group.”

Junior Grace Carter said that the conference enabled her to “realize that the world is so much bigger than just us.”

“Understandably, people get caught up in their lives and doing their own things,” she said, “so to have a day where we can learn from one another and empathize [is important].”