On Saturday, fourteen Dublin students and three Dublin faculty members attended the Northern New England Students of Color Conference (NNESOCC) in Holderness, New Hampshire. The conference, run by Holderness School, brought together Dublin School, Holderness School, Brewster Academy, the Derryfield School, the White Mountain School, Kimball Union Academy, Cushing Academy, and the New Hampton School.
Celeste Hopson, ’20, reflects: “This Conference felt very liberating. The most unique part about it was that the room was filled with talented, educated, and beautiful minorities from all schools and backgrounds coming together for the same cause.”
With over sixty students from different schools and backgrounds in attendance, the auditorium was rich with experience and perspective and poised to have crucial conversations.
Dr. Nicole Furlonge opened the conference. Dr. Furlong, English Department Chair and Director of Teaching and Learning at Holderness School, has previously taught at St. Andrew’s School, The Lawrenceville School, and Princeton Day School; she earned her M.A. from the University of Michigan and her PhD. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her remarks, gathered from her experiences as both a teacher and a student, set the conference toward one of its goals: encouraging students to share and then truly hear each other’s truths, many of which would feel different.
During one of her opening exercises, she asked the audience to close their eyes. Everyone in the room was holding a piece of goldenrod printer paper. Dr. Furlonge directed the audience members, all of whom kept their eyes closed, to silently fold this piece of paper. Then she invited them to fold it again. Then she directed them to find the right-hand corner and tear that corner off. Then rotate the page. Then tear off the right-hand corner again.
When we opened our eyes and looked at all of the fluttering goldenrod pieces of paper, no two were identical. Without the direction of orientation or direction, audience members had to make their own choices about how to follow Dr. Furlonge’s instructions, and, thus, the auditorium was a flurry of differently designed banners, whose rips, like paper snowflakes, etched distinctly different patterns across the room.
Dr. Furlonge encouraged everyone at the conference to recognize those papers that ended up similarly just as much as those that were vastly different. In a room of people with so many different ethnicities, identities, and affinity groups, she encouraged all to seek out conversations with people who might not share all of the same experiences in order to learn more about ourselves and our communities.
After Dr. Furlonge’s remarks, the NNESOCC opened into an unconference. In an unconference, there is no leader for the workshops; each workshop is given a question or topic, and then, collaboratively, the attendees discuss and follow the questions that emerge.
Each workshop followed the Agreements of Courageous Conversations:
- Stay engaged.
- Speak your truth. (Use “I” statements).
- Be willing to experience discomfort.
- Assume positive intent.
- Expect and accept non-disclosure.
Workshops ranged from “Protests” to “Being a Minority in a Predominantly White School” to “Islamophobia.” The workshop topics were all generated by attendees during registration and dinner. Chaperones attended only to listen and moderate the time. In most sessions, chaperones sat outside of the circle in order to encourage sessions that were entirely student run and mediated.
After two workshops, the third workshop broke into affinity groups: Biracial Affinity, Arab Affinity, Indian Affinity, Women of Color Affinity, Bengali Affinity, Christian Affinity, Vietnamese Affinity, Mexican/Latinx Affinity, Asian Affinity, First Nations Affinity, Chinese American Affinity, Caribbean Affinity, Spanish-Latin Affinity, Asian Women Affinity, and Asian Buddhist Affinity.
Devyn Itula, ’18, shares: “The most powerful moment for me was sitting in on the biracial affinity group. As a biracial woman, it was really amazing to hear how similar and how different our experiences are in our daily lives as biracial people.”
“I came back from the Student of Color conference with the takeaways of how important it is to maintain your identity while also being part of our school’s community,” says Gabriela Quintero, ’20, reflecting, in particular, on her experience in affinity groups. “My personal mission is to bring more awareness to Hispanic Heritage month, which some people did not even know was going on right now. We always allow it to go by unnoticed, but attending this conference made me feel supported in my effort to bring the attention that Hispanic Heritage Month could have at Dublin. Doing this allows me to take pride in my culture, family, and where I come from. While speaking to other Latinas at the conference, it made me realize that it is not just me going through the same exact problem. I think this realization amongst us will definitely let us speak up for our culture that we are very proud to represent at our schools.”
Quintero continues, “It was eye-opening to get to be a part of the affinity groups talking about topics not just covering racism and exclusion, but ranging from interracial couples, protests, being a minority in a predominantly white school, and others that were interesting. [It was also interesting] to hear other people's opinions and experiences with [these topics]. In these groups of open discussion, we were all able to openly talk about anything we were experiencing in a comfortable and safe way.”
Following the affinity group spaces, all of the schools returned to the auditorium and met with their schools and chaperones to generate a list of ideas and action items to take back to their schools. Each school shared their ideas with the whole conference, and then two student leaders gave inspirational closing remarks.
When the unconference ended, a social began: with board games and refreshments in one room, and the library converted into a dance hall with a DJ. Students danced and socialized and laughed, and, when it came time for each school to leave and drive home, the whole dance hall stopped and erupted in warm goodbyes.
As the Dublin buses boarded, the consensus echoed: students had been looking forward to the social and dance, but the truly important event that they would remember was the unconference.
Amani Natson, ’18, notes, “I felt completely ‘woke’ tonight. Hearing the different perspectives from different minorities from all over New England was an out-of-body experience for me. Going to the different mini-conferences was incredibly eye-opening for me.”
Hopson shares, “The students of Color Conference was not what I thought it would be. At first, I was very nervous about being around people that I didn't know. But as the night went on and I had conversations with different students, it felt like I had known them for a long time. I didn't realize how much we all had in common with each other.”
“As minorities, we are not alone in our struggles, and I felt that today,” Natson elaborates. “I felt like I was unified with other minorities, and all of us discussing how we felt showed that we all go through similar experiences. I was hesitant to speak at first, but in my second conference, I was the first person to speak on the issues of being black in a predominantly white school. It felt so empowering to talk about my experiences at Dublin as a black female.”
“Great discussions and even friendships came out of this experience,” says Hopson. “I heard stories from people that were similar to my own but then completely opposite, which helped me become more open to everyone's perspective, especially when most of the people there looked like me. I will do this again, and I encourage everyone to join something like this.”
“The conference was phenomenal; it gave us the opportunity to connect with many people from diverse backgrounds and share similar passions with them,” says Adunni Abrams, ’18. “What stood out to me was how irresistibly open people were. You could tell that most of us were deprived from expressing our emotions, and I was glad that we finally received the platform to do so.”
Abrams also feels that the conference provided an important opportunity to “analyze the problems at our school and come to a consensus for multiple solutions.”
Itula reflects, “I took away from the conference that every environment in our current society needs improvement on how to discuss issues concerning race, diversity, privilege, and all the multifaceted subjects that stem from this, and if we can just sit down and acknowledge that first, we are going on the right track.”
Natson says, “My main takeaway from this conference is that, as a community, we need to have uncomfortable conversations about race because, if they don't happen, we will never move forward as a community.”
“The way we all connected [at the Conference] made me feel like we had known each other for all our lives, and I got to make new friendships and learn about others’ opinions on these very important topics,” says Quintero. “We now know is up to us to bring up [these topics] in our own communities, which takes courage. I believe the Students of Color Conference gave us all that courage.”
By Rachael Jennings