Students, parents and faculty from Los Angeles independent schools participated in workshops and discussions as a part of the biennial Across Colors Diversity Conference in the effort to become more active participants in their communities at the Upper School on Nov. 18.
Hosted by the Independent School Alliance of Minority Affairs, the event followed the theme of “More than Classes and Books” to help bring a diverse group together to build empathy and create a supportive learning environment, Executive Director Rob Evans said.
Keynote speaker Stephanie Carrillo, who is the Campbell Hall Episcopal Director of Diversity and Inclusion, closed the event by speaking about the impact of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots on her perception of education.
“I deeply understood the frustration of the looters and angry mobs because I too had felt forgotten and unseen and unheard by the system,” Carrillo said. “The only reason why I didn’t fall into complete hopelessness was because of my education. Surrounded by so much despair and brokenness of people my age and younger, I thought maybe I had the answer. I was convinced that the young people in my neighborhood needed education because maybe they could glimpse the world of possibilities that I had been exposed to.”
Carrillo’s first experience as an educator for children in juvenile facilities exposed her to questions of identity and the value of education for those who had nothing to prove, she said.
“At the core, teaching is about relationships,” Carrillo said. “At juvenile facilities, this becomes immediately apparent. If someone took away everything you loved and locked yourself with a bunch of people who also had everything they loved taken from them, who exactly would you be. Who are you in the dark, with nothing but yourself.”
This teaching experience guided her to understand the important task educators have in encouraging open ambition and equal opportunity, Carrillo said.
“The dreams we have for ourselves are so important,” Carrillo said. “Don’t ever discourage the dreams of young people. If they believe in themselves and want possibilities outside their immediate presence, nurture that. They will do things that we have never dreamed of.”
Participants attended hour-long workshops, ranging from classes geared toward students, such as “Demystifying the College Application Process” and “Our Voices Matter: Empower Female Students of Color within the Independent School Experience,” to those for faculty members, including “Racial Equity Boot Camp: Building Racial Awareness in Our School Community.”
In his workshop, “Traditions of Dissonance,” independent writer, researcher and consultant Christian Rabin spoke to faculty and parents about the clash that minorities feel between identity and maintaining harmony.
“[They] feel a dissonance, or a burden of proof, that somehow their experiences of discrimination need to be justified according to normative rationality,” Rabin said in his workshop. “In a sense, they are a part of a larger texture that is hard to see. These dissonant experiences often create a pervasive sense of confusion, alienation and dissociation.”
The workshops and activities allowed the community to tackle this sense of isolation and empower them around issues of diversity, participant Daniel Arriaza ’19 said.
“It gave kids entering the independent school system a sense of security that there are other people that can support them in a homogeneous society,” Arriaza said. “It helped give a sense of belonging and support that some schools, that are not as diverse, seem to lack.”