By Dr. Alain Sykes, Dean of Academics
From November 28-December 1, a group of 4 HPA faculty and administrators and 5 HPA Upper School Students attended the NAIS People of Color Conference and NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. HPA was one of three Hawaiʻi independent schools to send adults to the People of Color Conference, and one of only two Hawaiʻi schools to send delegates to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. The learning that took place at the People of Color Conference and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a powerful beginning, but it is just that: a beginning. In our classrooms, offices, and our daily work in the campus, we must continue to build our understanding, build context, and be equity and inclusion leaders.
In a place as multicultural as Hawaiʻi, it can be easy to wonder why we would send 9 of our community members to a conference focused on the theme of diversity and identity in education. Many people already look to Hawaiʻi as a place that has achieved deep cultural, ethnic, and racial integration. What could we as an already diverse school have to learn about this topic? I will turn to the words of one of the faculty attendees, written upon return from the POCC, for an answer: “We have a naturally welcoming school community, but that doesn't mean that all voices are heard, or that our students are prepared to take part in social discourse.” While we have much to celebrate with regards to diversity, there is also much that we can continue to learn about how to ensure that every member of our school feels included, represented, and heard. “Welcoming,” while important and valuable, is not the same as “inclusive,” which requires more focused, deliberate work by all community members.
Diversity is integrated into HPA’s Strategic Plan and Task Force work. Three of the POCC attendees are members of the Diversity Task Force. At the conference, they attended sessions that can contribute to our understanding of our school-wide inclusion efforts. Upon return to HPA, adult attendees shared the following reflections: “One thing that struck me... is that we, as teachers, need to be very careful with our words. We may think we’re joking or connecting with students, but they may not take it that way and it may affect them for a very long time. Issues connected with diversity and inclusion can be such a sensitive area for a developing child or teen. We all know this, but in the rush of a school day, we can forget the weight of our words on young people’s ears and their positive development.” Another wrote, “I personally will be thoughtful and careful about every word I say and write. I will step in more strongly when I hear anything that should not be said. I still feel I need help with this though...I will continue to provide a safe space and an ear for our students. I will make sure everyone is seen.” (for student reflections on the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, please see the December K-12 notes).
The keynote sessions included speakers from the areas of education, journalism, and civil rights. Lisa Ling, journalist, ended her talk, titled Open Heart, Open Mind, with the question, “Now that you know, what will you do?” Christian Picciolini, former white supremacist, spoke on the theme Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism, and Marc Lamont Hill, focused on the topic of education and inclusivity. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Childrenʻs Defense Fund, and Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of Real American: A memoir, and How to Raise an Adult, also spoke at the general sessions. I will end this piece by reiterating Lisa Lingʻs words: Now that you know, what will you do?”