(Social) Justice League Brings Diverse Conversations to Prep

(Social) Justice League Brings Diverse Conversations to Prep

In Anaheim this fall, six students and six faculty from Prep attended a nationwide conference on diversity sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).  To take the conference back to campus, 7th and 9th grade advisors recently led activities created by the students who attended, connecting advisees to each other through discussions of important issues.

Flintridge Prep’s philosophy statement on diversity is intentionally broad, stating that “we believe in the essential value of diversity—of people, of talent, of interests, of passions and of engagements.” The Student Diversity Leadership Conference focused on the understanding of identity in terms of eight identifiers: ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. According to the conference website, students who attend “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.”

Prep’s six-member student team named itself the tongue-in-cheek (Social) Justice League, a nod to the theme of this year’s conference: “Voices for Equity and Justice, Now and in Every Generation.” Those who attended—Marissa Habashy ’19, Ryan Huntley ’19, Mia Bella Chavez ’20, Germaine Harvey ’20, Maya Khurana ’20 and Charlie McCormick ’20—commented at length on the impact the conference had on their perspectives, saying that “Everyone has an important story that needs to be heard” and “I learned not to assume anything about a person when I first meet them.”

The students brought these understandings back to campus by designing advisory group activities on two of the diversity identifiers, socioeconomic status and ability. For the socioeconomic activity, students reflected on how hard it can be to make financial choices, and in the ability activity, students did an empathy exercise to consider the many ways in which people experience mental, physical, emotional and learning challenges. For many groups, this included a conversation about basic daily needs, such as getting enough sleep and incorporating exercise into a packed schedule.

While the students immersed themselves in SDLC, their faculty chaperones—Dean of Student Life Barrett Jamison, 7th Grade Dean Heba Allen and Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper—attended the simultaneously-held People of Color Conference (PoCC), which the conference website describes as “the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning.” Director of College Counseling Gloria Ventura, Associate Director of College Counseling Brooke Yoshino and science teacher David Herman also went to this year’s conference.

For both adults and students, the PoCC and SDLC conferences offered an intense three-day experience filled with speakers, dialogue, role plays, personal reflection and activities. Approximately 1,500 students and 4,500 adults from independent schools across the country gathered to share experiences and learn from each other. They heard from presenters such as author Ta-Nehisi Coates (whose latest book is the current faculty book group choice), civil rights advocate Kimberle Crenshaw and social activist DeRay Mckesson. Two of the many sessions the Prep faculty members attended were “Who Is Us? The Future of American Identity” and “Personal Identity Exploration for Building a More Inclusive Classroom.”

Ultimately, the PoCC and SDLC conferences inspired students, teachers and administrators to discuss how Prep can continue to foster a welcoming environment that values all voices. As one student reflected, “I think my biggest takeaway was not to make any judgments about a specific person or a group of people until you have spoken face-to-face and heard what they have to say. It’s incredible how much that will change your mind.”