In early December, four Pomfret faculty members and seven students attended the annual People of Color Conference/Student Diversity Leadership Conference (web link?). Each member of the group commented on their amazing experience. The following is an overview of Pomfret Academic Dean Kate Caspar’s experience and a few reflections from our students:
The opportunity to travel to Philadelphia with a group of students and colleagues for the annual People of Color/Student Diversity Leadership Conference offered me a rare chance to step away from the whirl of daily life and take time to reflect. As a first-time attendee, I relished the chance to observe an experience that many before me had described as “life-changing,” and I walked into the opening session eager to get started. The conference began with a speech by author and entrepreneur Wes Moore, whose recent memoir, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, chronicles his childhood in a decaying urban neighborhood. The very week he learns that he has just won a prestigious Rhodes scholarship, he reads in a local paper that a man who shares his name has just been sentenced to life in prison for murder. Moore questions how two boys, growing up in the same neighborhood, facing the same adversity, could end up so differently. He concludes that he was probably one choice away from leading a very different life. As Moore spoke, the room was silent, and we knew that this would be no ordinary conference.
The POCC/SDLC is essentially two conferences, one for students and one for educators. As students broke into affinity groups and began the work of exploring identity and leadership, the adults chose from a menu of professional development workshops designed to stimulate thinking and inspire action. I sat in overflowing rooms, energized by discussions about race in literature, micro-aggression, negative stereotyping, and faculty recruitment and retention. I listened to speakers address their own experience as students and faculty of color at independent schools across the nation, and I heard story after story of personal journeys and epiphanies. Staged in Philadelphia, the “city of murals,” the conference challenged us to create a mural of our own, a patchwork of reflections and observations.
When the students and adults came back together on the last morning of the three-day conference, merging the two conferences into one, I began to reflect on the importance of stories in a community. Stories are what allow people to find common ground, to learn from each other, and come to appreciate difference. Schools must provide opportunities for students to share their stories to ensure that their community is safe, accepting, and celebratory of diversity in all of its forms. I began to reflect on the many ways Pomfret is already in the practice of uniting students and faculty through storytelling: our senior chapel program, sit-down lunches, school meetings, and even courses in our curriculum. Beyond these formal venues, we work to encourage community in our dormitories and on our fields, in the dining hall, and in our clubs and organizations. The POCC/SDLC conference reminded me that there is still work to be done, but I left feeling very proud of the community we share here at Pomfret.” – Kate Caspar Academic Dean, English Faculty
“I would say that my experience was very informative, yet emotional. I learned that anyone can be a victim of stereotyping and prejudice and that even I could be a facilitator to these things without even knowing it! That led me to discover how I can recognize these hurtful actions in myself and others and take steps toward stopping it.” Ollie Adekanbi ‘14
“The SDLC was a life changing experience for me. Growing up as a Gay teenager in Costa Rica is not an easy experience, and I felt very isolated and alone because of it. After going to the SDLC, and meeting and talking with people from all walks of life, I realized that the one aspect of humanity that is universal is struggle. At first, I thought I was going to learn about diversity, but after the first few hours I discovered that I was learning more about myself. Through the SDLC, I healed a lot of scars from my past and at the same time found purpose. I honestly can’t ask for anything more than that.” Juan Carlos Chotocruz ’12