Middle Schoolers explore “Diversity without Divisiveness”

Fourteen Dana Hall students attended the Middle School Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference hosted by the Association of Independent Schools of New England (AISNE) at Belmont Day School on November 2. This year, the theme of the conference was “Diversity without Divisiveness.” Seven 8th graders, three 7th graders, and four 5th graders represented Dana Hall.

Schuyler Bailar and Kwame Alexander were the two keynote speakers at the conference. Bailar, the opening speaker, describes himself on his website as “the first trans athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA D1 men’s team, and the only to have competed for all four years.” Bailar’s keynote presentation was about his mental and physical transition into the gender he truly identified with and how his connection to his sport, swimming, was affected through his journey. Yudi Wang ’25 reflected, “He really told us a powerful story about trying to fit in, and then realizing he was trying to fit into the wrong group. He explained what it felt like to experience these changes, what these changes felt like for him and his family. He said it came with a sense of loss, even though no one really lost anyone.”

Poet, educator, and bestselling author Kwame Alexander ended the conference with his closing keynote. Yudi commented, “[Alexander] took us through his journey of becoming a writer, what it felt like to be rejected, and what it felt like to keep trying. He never gave up on his dream, and finally published his first book after multiple rejections. He took us through the experience of frustration and despair, sadness and anger. He conveyed a really powerful and emotional message, and told us to never give up, even when the challenge seems impossible.”

Students also attended two workshops of their choice. Dora Lu ’24 attended a workshop called “Science vs. Society: The Dilemma of Race.” Dora explained, “In this workshop, we learned about the conflict of the scientific non-reality of race and the social reality of racialization. We learned that racialization is the process of imposing racial identities to a relationship, social practice, or anything that the group does not identify themselves with. Our facilitator explained racialization with a powerful analogy: Tigers, racoons, and zebras are all striped animals, so society groups them in the same category. Society either makes the assumption or purposefully claims that striped animals require less food. The animals become thin because of the lack of food and are more prone to disease and dies soon. The conclusion society makes is that striped animals are thin and die easily. Clearly this analogy doesn’t make sense but it explains the stereotypes imposed on races perfectly. This analogy cleared up a lot of questions I had, and the next time I hesitate about a stereotype, I will think back to this explanation.”

Kelly Kong ’24 expressed how much she learned from the workshop “Truth to Power”: “The whole experience of meeting everyone from different schools was really eye-opening, and it was also amazing to hear the variety of voices and opinions from our generation to be expressed within one classroom. One of the workshops I attended was named Truth to Power, and it was based on creating theatre on human rights. We had a great time planning, acting out, and learning about some of the major evolutionary events that happened within this decade, such as Malala Yousafzai’s impact on women’s education in the world.”

Nicole Gallucci ’27 tried something new as well: “I learned how to pop and lock during the dance workshop. It was really enjoyable because we got to have fun and dance.”

The AISNE Middle School Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference provoked thought in students as young as ten years old, and many participants left inspired to continue exploring diversity.

Photo: Ms. Tamara Nikuradse

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