Brewster Faculty and Students Return from “Incredibly Moving” Conference

Brewster Faculty and Students Return from “Incredibly Moving” Conference
Suzanne Morrissey

“I think I just had the three best days of my life.”

That is what one Brewster student said after attending the People of Color and Student Diversity Leadership conferences sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools last year. This year, four students and six faculty members attended the dual conferences in Seattle, and once again, the impact was intense.

“This was an incredibly moving and emotional week for us, and we are still processing what we’ve learned and experienced,” said Melissa Lawlor, Brewster’s Director of Equity and Inclusion and history faculty member. The Brewster contingent joined more than 7,000 educators and students at the conferences December 4–7 in Seattle.

Educators at the People of Color Conference heard from expert speakers including Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing; journalist Anand Giridharadas, civil rights activist Valarie Kaur, whose research of violence against Sikhs and Muslims in America after September 11, 2001, resulted in the award-winning film "Divided We Fall”; and sociologist Pedro Noguera, whose research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, among many others.

Students Jade Hall ’22 of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Tuke Murch ’21 of York, Maine; Valeria Ramos ’22 of Alton Bay, N.H., and Jaila Richard ’22 of Teaneck, N.J. attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. Designed for student leaders grades 9 to 12 from across the U.S. and abroad, this conference “is a multiracial, multicultural gathering that focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community,” according to the National Association of Independent Schools, which has hosted the conference for 26 years. Through large and small group sessions, the participants were encouraged to build cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles.

Schuyler Bailar, the first transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team, delivered the student conference’s keynote address. By 15, Bailar was one of the nation’s top-20 15-year-old breaststrokers. By 17, he set a national age-group record. In college, he swam for Harvard University, on the winningest Harvard team in 50 years. His choice to transition while potentially giving up the prospect of being an NCAA champion has been chronicled 60 Minutes and The Ellen Show.

Having the faculty and student conferences together allows for synergy as the participants return to campus enthused and inspired. “The People of Color conference is an invaluable, affirming embrace for educators of color. I attended for the first time as a bright-eyed, first-year teacher at 22 in 2001, and I have tried not to miss a year,” Lawlor said. “The workshops are amazing, and I've always managed to bring back something to the Brewster community to help shape it and make it better. E2E, our social-emotional learning curriculum for juniors, was inspired at that conference. Many of the inclusion initiatives that Brewster has undertaken have come from idea brainstorms during those conference days. It is an amazing, enlightening conference.”

Vince Alvelo, a member of the ELL faculty and chair of the World Languages department, joined Brewster in 2018 and was a first timer at the People of Color Conference. He said he hoped to connect with other people and “experience what it feels like to be in the majority of a human group as a Latinx person of color.” In a message sent from the conference floor, he reported, “It happened today and it was surreal!” Alvelo also mentioned his fellow faculty travelers, Lawlor, Yu Lui, Alicia Childers, Paul Gray, and Dolph Clinton, adding, “Brewster is blessed to have these fine people teaching our students not only in the classroom, but about life from a different and diverse perspective. I am grateful to Brewster for allowing me to have this life changing experience! EVERYONE at Brewster should participate at least once in their lives.” The impact ran deep on the student side; both Hall and Murch were energized by their experience and came back to Wolfeboro ready to get to work. Hall noted, “I witnessed a lot of white allies standing up. I’m going to take this chance to introduce more white allies back at Brewster to a world of more diversity. Some people have a belief that more diversity means just a few more black people in the room, but diversity comes in more than just two colors.” Murch echoed her sentiments on the importance of talking about social justice issues in our classrooms and community: “This place was truly an experience of a lifetime. Seeing my fellow friends stand up on the stage and talk about issues that are normally not talked about made me think about all the great things that can happen if we all can start moving towards this goal of helping each other be our true selves at school.”

Click here to see a highlight video of the 2019 conference.

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