Middle school students from 28 schools attended The Haverford School's 11th annual Middle School Diversity Conference in March. This year's theme was "Kinship and Friendship: Making Connections Across Lines of Difference." In this blog post, Head of Middle School Jay Greytok '83 and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Brendon Jobs reflect on the conference's history and importance, as well as takeaways from this year's keynote speaker, Dr. Rodney Glasgow.
Jay Greytok '83, Head of Middle School:
Our entire Form II class participated in the 11th annual Middle School Diversity Conference held in Centennial Hall. We are lucky to host this event and be able to include our entire Form II class every year. The attendance was nearly 500 middle school students from the Delaware Valley, as well as Maryland and New York, from nearly 30 different schools. Seats are limited and no one else gets to bring an entire grade level.
It was our largest conference to date, and Centennial Hall was packed. The message of the conference still rings clearly in my ears as the students who attended brought tremendous energy, hope, and positive commitment to making the world a more inclusive, supportive, and equitable place for everyone.
The message of the conference still rings clearly in my ears as the students who attended brought tremendous energy, hope, and positive commitment to making the world a more inclusive, supportive, and equitable place for everyone.
Our guest speaker this year was Dr. Rodney Glasgow, Head of Middle School at St. Andrew's Episcopal Academy in Maryland, as well as their Chief Diversity Coordinator. He is a dynamic and wonderfully positive middle school teacher first and administrator second. I am so happy our boys heard from him as he engaged the students with stories regarding his childhood and how he faced challenges on a daily basis, including a number of mistakes he made as a middle school student.
As he finished his stories, Dr. Glasgow asked the students to consider areas where they saw injustice and how they could and should find their inner voice and be able to speak up for themselves as well as speak up for others who struggle to find their voice. One thing he was very clear about was not taking away anyone's voice or making someone feel less of a person.
Haverford is having the necessary conversations to make our school an even more welcoming place for everyone. We are all a part of this wonderful institution that gets better and better every day, as we all do our very best to prepare boys for good times and bad as we prepare them for life.
Brendon Jobs, Director of Diversity and Inclusion:
With close to 500 attendees, the Middle School Diversity Conference (MSDC) exceeded our expectations in the level of story-telling and sharing that unfolded. Schools have not been immune to national increases in incidents of intimidation and harassment based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual identity. With the tension so many schools are facing, there is a tendency for friend groups to organize into “us” vs. “them” categorizations in ways that keep us apart. That’s why we chose the theme of friendship and kinship for gathering MSDC 2019.
We gathered to reimagine how to build and strengthen our communities of friends with allyship and intention. We wanted attendees thinking throughout the day: How do I build healthy relationships in ways that go beyond the lines that divide us? How do I practice that today? It takes work, bravery and a sense of self that gets excited by the prospect of connecting with people who are different than we are.
Dr. Rodney Glasgow led with a keynote speech with vignettes from his own life that showed both vulnerability and detailed examples of how allyship has empowered the development of his voice -- a voice he wields as an instrument of interruption and disruption of biased attitudes and actions. “Every time I tell a story there’s a part of me that heals,” Dr. Glasgow told attendees as he modeled the power of storytelling.
We wanted attendees thinking throughout the day: How do I build healthy relationships in ways that go beyond the lines that divide us? How do I practice that today? It takes work, bravery and a sense of self that gets excited by the prospect of connecting with people who are different than we are.
We approached Dr. Glasgow for this year’s conference after witnessing the profound impact that he has had on students year after year as one of the founding members and now Chair of the National Association of Independent Schools' annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), a 20 year-old training ground drawing over 1,500 high school students nationwide. The end of his keynote and probably the most powerful part was when Glasgow invited students to share their own narratives of empowerment in a community of love and kindness--hard truths of their about their current school experiences.
In the afternoon session, Homa Tavangar, author of Growing Up Global, introduced the students to the 17 UN Goals for Sustainable Development. In her presentation, she challenged them to think beyond the old notion of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and instead inspired them to brainstorm and share “what problems of the world do you want to solve?” in a way that reminded them of the power that they have to influence and change the world not tomorrow, but today. Nearly 50 trained high school facilitators supported students as they envisioned pathways towards a better tomorrow.
We left empowered and feeling connected in community with each other and ready, perhaps in new ways, to support our kids in such trying times.
As this happened, Rodney led a dynamic professional development session for adults that got us thinking about implicit bias. He started with a selective awareness test that got us talking about not only Blind Spots in our reading of social conflicts, but also about the core identifiers that construct the lenses we use to make sense of the world: Ability, Family Structure, Age, Race, Gender, Sexuality, Socioeconomic Status, and Religion.
Most importantly, he also challenged us to reframe how we approach inclusion work. Typically described as “heart work” rooting in feelings, deep and meaningful practice approaches inclusion as “brain work,” work rooted in the psychology and sociology of human interaction. We talked about the patterns of cognitive dissonance and cognitive reward that influence our interactions across lines of difference and also the influence of perceptions and lived experiences of the world, before practicing crisis management using scenarios. We left empowered and feeling connected in community with each other and ready, perhaps in new ways, to support our kids in such trying times.