NAIS Diversity Leadership Conference Inspires Students

Upper School students Bryce Berry ’19, Raevyn Ferguson ’19, Kierra Graves ’17, Erica Jones ’18, Hallie Nuzum ’18 and Kenny Townsend ’19 represented MICDS as participants in the 2015 NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Tampa, FL. The conference took place in conjunction with the annual NAIS People of Color Conference, geared toward educators. Upper School History Teacher Andy Cox, Middle School History Teacher Marshall McCurties and Director of Diversity Erica Moore accompanied the students.

The theme of SLDC was “Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn: The Art of Dialogue and the Science of Living Justly.” SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participants work to develop effective cross-cultural communication skills, better understand the nature and development of effective strategies for social justice, practice expression through the arts, and learn networking principles and strategies. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC “family groups” and “home groups” allow for intense dialogue and sharing. ​

Student participants offered reflections on their experience.

Bryce Berry: “We spent the majority of the day in this room with the people in our home or family groups, who were from around the world and with different identities. To hear their stories was truly a life changing experience and a call to action to want to do more, and to meet everyone in person inspires you with something as a simple smile. It is great to make lifelong friends in that group. Though we learn about diversity during enrichment time at MICDS, I realized that you can never learn diversity until you experience diversity . . . On the way home we discussed we wanted to be the reason for positive change in our community, to accept diversity and others to the fullest extent. We want to make the perfect community.”

Hallie Nuzum: “SDLC was overall a great experience where I learned a lot and had a great time. I learned how different everyone is, whether it is their family structure or sexual orientation. When we think about identifiers (gender, race, sexual orientation, family structure, etc.), we think of them on a black and white scale, when really there is a large spectrum of gray.

Kierra Graves: I was honored to have heard all of the different experiences and stories from the others who attended as well. The amount of education I acquired within the 3 days that I was there is overwhelming, and I feel as if I know more about myself now.

Erica Jones: “Everyone was open, honest, and positive. That’s rare these days. I learned not only to accept others for who they are, but to accept myself. Accept my flaws, my habits, and accept others who are trying to live just as happily as you are. There is more out there than just the “normal” that people think, there is a whole new world of people. The positive energy really consumed you, and opened your eyes to the issues that may surround us but we may be blind to. I encourage many people to attend the conference, it is truly life-changing.”

The People of Color Conference for educators carried the theme “Art, Science, Soul and the Equity Imperative.” Its workshops featured sessions addressing identity, dialogue, leadership, empowerment and offered ideas for transforming classrooms into diverse learning environments. Erica Moore was a session leader, speaking on the topic, “Being Diversity Director is Hard Work: Let’s Talk About How to be Effective

Marshall McCurties described the People of Color Conference as “profoundly moving, educational, and inspirational.” He continued, “It gives educators the opportunity to engage in conversations about diversity and empathize with the struggles, successes, and nuisances of all minorities in our country, schools, and classes. More importantly, it gives practical ways to help educators facilitate tough conversations within schools, embed multicultural perspectives into curriculum, and transform school environments into places of tolerance, understanding, and positive action. It teaches that diversity education is not just for minorities; instead, we must all be a part of the conversation in order to be a part of the solution.”