Conference Offers Perspectives on Diversity

Students at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in 2019

Two students and two faculty members representing The Gunnery attended the 2019 People of Color Conference/Student Leadership Diversity Conference sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) in Seattle in December. Marley Berano ’20 and Danny Infante ’21 were among 1,600 students from independent schools across the country who attended the sold-out Student Leadership Diversity Conference (SLDC). In addition to large group sessions, the SDLC offers students the opportunity to share their experiences in “affinity groups,” which NAIS describes as “safe and supportive spaces defined by membership in a specific racial or ethnic identity group.

The students were accompanied by Mandarin teacher Tanya Nongera and English teacher Tim Poole, who attended the People of Color Conference (PoCC). Both faculty and students attended the keynote presentation by Joy DeGruy, an internationally renowned researcher and educator who focuses on the intersection of racism, trauma, violence, and American chattel slavery. Here’s what Berano and Infante said about their experiences.

What was a highlight of this conference for you?

Berano: The most important aspect to me was the affinity group time. I chose the Multiracial Heritage affinity group. There were kids of all different races and ages from all over the world. We talked about our home life and life at an independent school. I met probably 300 kids who shared very similar stories and schools and things I could relate to. I’d never been in a room with that many people that celebrated this part of their identity.

Infante: We mostly spoke about what it was like being a student of color at our school. They gave us tips and we had workshops on what would make our school better. It’s just trying to get everybody to come together, have students of color interact more, and we would have more support.

What would you like to bring back to The Gunnery from what you learned

Berano: I found the message of the opening speaker, Dr. Joy DeGruy, very interesting. She talked about the cycle of oppression and “post-traumatic” syndrome. I think that students and faculty at The Gunnery could identify what this may look like in our school. At the end of the conference, they also shared a video of Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches,” which, below the surface, was about celebrating and not hiding differences. You could apply it to a lot of the things we learn about. You don’t have to change your identity to fit into the society or school you live in. I’d like to share that and talk about how that works at The Gunnery and how we wished it worked at The Gunnery.

Infante: There’s actually a group chat that my group was in and we talk in that every single day. Just having connections with people from other places is nice. I have people I can reach out to.

Why do you think it’s important for Gunnery students to attend this conference?

Berano: It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I may never be in that environment again, but I feel very uniquely empowered knowing that spaces, people like this exist. The knowledge, focus, and awareness that the conference nurtured demanded to be felt. A lot of kids said they “finally felt affirmed”. Similarly, I always thought I was the only one at my school or in my town [like me], but going to this conference I was part of something that was new and different, yet so familiar. It was so special. Also that it was sponsored by the NAIS, everyone could share what it is like to be in a private school and in a marginalized setting in those schools.

What would you say to a student who was considering attending next year

Infante: Be ready to learn a lot! Even if you feel uncomfortable at some point, you’ll be interacting with everyone in seconds and build a bond with kids quickly.

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