Finding Inspiration and Connection at NAIS Conferences

Westover participants found inspiration, connection, and support at two NAIS conferences on diversity and leadership.

Students, Administrators Energized by Conference Experiences

Westover students and administrators found inspiration, connection, and support through their participation at two conferences organized by the National Association of Independent Schools in Nashville, Tennessee, from November 28 through December 1.

Four Westover administrators – Kate Taylor, Director of Global Programs and the Rasin Center for Global Justice; Mary Taylor, Director of Diversity and Inclusion; Treda Collier Dickenman, Director of Financial Aid and Admission Associate; and Alexandra McKnight, Director of Counseling and Student Support – attended the People of Color Conference, which provided educators with "a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking," equipping them "with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools."

Six students – seniors Ryan Heard, Kamille Howe, Tutu Nath, and Dylan Norris, and juniors Mikayla Labissiere and Marianella Salinas – attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which offered independent school juniors and seniors opportunities for "self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. 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."

"As a first-time attendee to the NAIS People of Color Conference," Mary said, "I was affirmed by the incredibly talented educators from independent schools across the country, I learned new skills and tools, I laughed and listened to incredible keynotes, and left feeling invigorated to help Westover meet our diversity and inclusion goals, and inspired to help us dream bigger, to make our community the best that it can be for all students and faculty and staff. I was reminded that equity and social justice work are never finished, and I look forward to applying everything I've learned to my role, and encouraging all faculty and staff to consider attending next year. It was an invaluable experience."

In contrast, Treda noted that has attended 20 or more of the People of Color Conferences over the years. She said her great experiences at this year's event included "connecting with friends and peers in the halls and meeting spaces and attending great presentations and workshops led by fellow colleagues and friends." Treda was particularly moved by Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of the memoir Real American, who said in her talk, "We must make our word 'love' a verb. Love is not just interpersonal. Love is not just lip service; it is action. Justice is what love looks like in public."

Westover's students felt transformed by their shared experiences at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, citing the close connections they were able to form with many of the thousands of other students who attended from across the country.

"SDLC was a place for me to find home," Tutu said. "I saw faces I didn't know, but after two days I felt like I've known them forever."

"SDLC was a place of acceptance," Mikayla said. "I have never felt as much love as I did while there. SDLC gave me motivation and a platform of people who I know support me. I now know what it is like to open up in a space where those present look to see the best in me."

"SDLC was where I learned from beautiful people about things I did not know I needed to learn," Dylan explained. "I left with a family of people I will love forever. I have never before felt so accepted for being myself in a such a short amount of time with people I had just met."