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HOW CAN WE HELP STUDENTS OF COLOR FEEL HEARD AT THEIR INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS?

 

 

 

WHAT IS DIVERSITY ?

Diversity consists of individuals from a spectrum of different demographic backgrounds. This may be someone you do not share one of your identities with, but are still able to accept, and respect. What keeps a diverse community together is the ability to share and listen to each other’s experiences.

WHAT IT FEELS LIKE BEING A STUDENT OF COLOR ATTENDING INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS –

Reaching a stage where you can connect with someone on a deeper level is extremely challenging while attending a school when there are little to none who look like you. It’s clear to the eye that you are different, and it becomes difficult to make a good impression when people have a preconceived idea of what type of person they think you are. Although you may wear the same clothes, and have the same shoes, the underlying fact is that you aren’t the same. Through social media and western beauty standards, children of color feel as though they are not enough. At a young age, it’s hard to appreciate your uniqueness, especially when you are constantly compared to the majority in your community. These standards convince young children of color that their name, ethnic food, languages, and culture isn’t good enough. Children spend so much of their time putting on a mask, and pretending to be someone they’re not to the point where it gets tiring. Children, teenagers, and adults who are struggling with their identity is very common. I want them to realize that they are enough, and that they do not need to assimilate into any culture, or change the way they are to fulfill someone else’s standards.

“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

– Zora Neale Hurston

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

  • The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 
  • The mental state by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while having the ability to acknowledge and accept one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

HOW CAN WE PRACTICE MINDFULNESS? 

*Mindful Listening Group Exercise

  • Step 1: Invite participants to think of one thing they are stressed about and one thing they look forward to
  • Step 2: Once everyone is finished, each participant takes their turn in sharing their story with the group
  • Step 3: Encourage each participant to direct attention to how it feels to speak, how it feels to talk about something stressful as well as how it feels to share something positive
  • Step 4: Participants are instructed to observe their own thoughts, feelings, and body sensations both when talking and when listening
  • Step 5: after each participant has shared, you can break into small groups and answer the questions below. Next, regroup and have a discussion and debrief with the following questions.
  1. How did you feel when speaking during the exercise?
  2. How did you feel when listening during the exercise?
  3. Did you notice any mind-wandering?
  4. If so, what was the distraction?
  5. What helped you to bring your attention back to the present?
  6. Did your mind judge while listening to others?
  7. If so, how did “judging” feel in the body?
  8. Were there times where you felt empathy?
  9. If so, how did this feel in the body?
  10. How did your body feel right before speaking?
  11. How did your body feel right after speaking?
  12. What are you feeling right now?
  13. What would happen if you practiced mindful listening with each person that you spoke with?

OTHER WAYS TO SUPPORT STUDENTS OF COLOR:

  • Look into SDLC/POCC from the NAIS (Explanation below)
  • Attend affinity groups at your school! – If your school doesn’t have a club that you identify with, consider reaching out to someone and start one!
  • Host a multicultural night, with food, presentations, and performances from a variety of cultures. 

The NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the U.S. and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC “family groups” and “home groups” allow for dialogue and sharing in smaller units.

CALL TO ACTION: 

  • Now that you’ve learned the importance of mindfulness practices, and what it means for a community to be diverse, I would love for you to reflect on your community, and find ways to help. In the comment section, respond to the following questions – 
  1. What does diversity look like in your school/community? 
  2. What can you do to learn about others experiences that are different from yours? 

Works Cited

“Brown v Board at Fifty: ‘With an Even Hand.'” Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-segregation.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

National Association of Independent Schools. pocc.nais.org/About/Student-Diversity-Leadership-Conference.

National Women’s History Museum. 2015, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ruby-bridges.

Ohikuare, Judith. “When Minority Students Attend Elite Private Schools.” The Atlantic, 17 Dec. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/when-minority-students-attend-elite-private-schools/282416/.

PositivePsychology.com. positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-exercises-techniques-activities/.



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COMMENTS: 8
  1. April 23, 2020 by Leah Griffin

    Hermona,
    I love that mindful listening group exercise. Is this something that you’ve facilitated before? It sounds like a great activity for future Social Justice Days, or Facilitator training.

  2. April 23, 2020 by Moses Rifkin

    Thanks for taking up this important topic, Hermona. I’m so glad you’re thinking about it: I think it’s one of the most important questions for our school and independent schools to take on.

    Because you asked us to answer your questions:

    What does diversity look like in your school/community?
    I think diversity can take a lot of forms, but racial diversity at our school reflects the fact that Seattle is mostly white: our school, I believe, is about 30% students of color. Within that broad category, there’s a great deal of diversity. One thing I’m thinking about here, which might not be related to the question but might be, is how the students engaged in thinking about racial diversity at our school (at least as far as I can tell) tend to be students of color, not white students.

    What can you do to learn about others experiences that are different from yours?
    I think an important first step for me is to recognize that, as a white man with a lot of other social identities that bring me privilege, I have to do work to learn about those other experiences, that there are so many factors that blind me to the fact that what seems “normal” to me is actually uniquely the result of my identities. The next step, and this is one I’m working on now, is to recognize that I benefit so much from learning about the experiences of others. Once I’ve got those two steps taken, I can begin learning from others: through social media, through the arts, through my relationships.

  3. April 23, 2020 by Abigail Hundley

    Hi Hermona,

    I’m so glad that I got a chance to see you in action as a teacher-activist! I am wondering if it would be okay to use this ? The highest teacher compliment is to “steal” someone else’s great idea and use it in their classroom. I’m also wondering if you would be interested in facilitating this with younger students like, say, my ninth grade advisory? It’s a diverse group that sometimes dances around the edges of difference and so misses out on some of the opportunities you discuss above. Either way, thanks for being my teacher today:)

    Ms. H

  4. April 23, 2020 by Ms Diop

    Bonjour Hermona!
    I am so proud of you! I love the activity and I like the fact that you have been a leader at UPrep. As a teacher, I find it very inspiring. Keep being you!
    Merci d’avoir partagé ta passion.
    Mme Diop

  5. April 23, 2020 by susan

    hi hermona — thank you for the work that sits behind your project as well as your clear commitment to making the world a more just and inclusive place. i also appreciate your investment in mindfulness, which is so essential for mental health. while there are many reasons for why our culture is so rife with discrimination, among them has to be challenges with mental health. further, being the recipient of discrimination threatens mental health. our overall health and well being, physical and mental, are enormously important for building a more just and inclusive world. thank you for taking up these topics, and i look forward to spending more time with your work and the resources you share.

    in response to your specific questions: i find myself using the word diversity in tandem with inclusivity and equity in recent times. i’ve worked in schools for over 30 years, and i remember when we started making a far more concerted effort to work on issues of diversity. that was such critical work, but i think we’ve made some progress (and so so much more to make) and that has led to our thinking even further about diversity — the vast and beautiful and significant differences among people, which might come from race or class or gender identity or culture or religion, and to moving also into inclusivity. how can we ensure that, let’s say, a school is inclusive? that diverse students have no barriers to experiencing every opportunity and resource at the school? everything needed to gain an education? then there is the question of equity. do all students feel included and find that there is equity for all? equal access? i’ve been thinking a lot in recent times about grading and equity and am convinced we need some good reform to ensure grading practices are equitable. the thing we hear often in schools from kids will be stuff about the reputations of teachers as graders — oh, she’s a hard grader — or, oh he’s pretty easy — that just doesn’t make sense to me and suggests inconsistency among how teachers assess work, which may well lead to inequitable practices. there is far more to say, but this is getting long. finally, there is so so much i can learn from others — and every day my life is fuller because of doing so. to be curious about others and to bring empathy when building relationships with others — that seems to me to be the heart and soul of being human and having life be interesting and full and meaningful.

  6. April 24, 2020 by Anne Bingham

    Thank you for sharing insights into the experience of feeling marginalized in a group. I like your positive messaging and outreach and am impressed that you are already improving the world for students younger than you. I’m glad that Positive Psychology has given you tools for your work and interests, and that you have this opportunity to share.

  7. April 24, 2020 by Richard

    Hermona, I appreciate your courageous and specific presentation. I know we have more work to do, and I also appreciate the changes we have made over the past eight years. With your call to action, I believe we will continue to grow and improve as a community.

  8. April 25, 2020 by Ciara McGrath

    I am so proud of you, Hermona. Thank you so much for the work you’ve done. This is truly important work, and I cannot wait to see how you continue to develop your voice, and your activism, to improve not only our community at U Prep, but the world at large. Thank you.

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