School hosts annual diversity conference


Printed with permission of Harvard-Westlake DEI Office

Students sit on the stage of the Saperstein Theater before speaking on a panel in front of school PODS.

Davis Marks

Representatives in a school POD discuss diversity, equity and inclusion following the keynote presentation. (Printed with permission of Harvard-Westlake DEI Office)

The school hosted the annual Pollyanna Conference, where 230 representatives from 19 schools came together to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion, on the Middle School campus Saturday.

The Pollyanna Conference is a partnership between the school and Pollyanna Inc., a national nonprofit that collaborates with institutions on diversity, equity and inclusion work. The partnership began with the school reaching out to Pollyanna Inc., and after realizing they had mutual goals, hosting groups of school representatives called PODS from 19 primarily independent schools for the past five years.

Middle School Dean and Middle School Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator Jon Carroll, who worked with Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Associate Director of Admission Janine Jones to organize the event, said he views hosting the conference as an affirmation of the school’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I think it is important that HW hosts Pollyanna every year because it is a demonstration of our commitment to the work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our community,” Carroll said. “It is a unique space to really lean into these conversations, reflect on where we are and strategize about where we want to go while also offering our peer schools the same opportunity.”

This year’s conference marks a return to in-person conferences, as last year’s conference was held online because of concerns with bringing outside guests onto campus due to COVID-19. However, as COVID-19 conditions improved, the school decided to bring the representatives onto campus for the conference.

Leader of the Black Leadership, Awareness and Culture Club Eghosasere Asemota ’22 attended the conference and said it was valuable to talk with other students about how school communities can improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

“The Pollyanna Conference to me was a great opportunity to talk with other students from diverse backgrounds that also attend private schools,” Asemota said. “It was also a great opportunity as a community to get the necessary tools to re-evaluate our school and the way us students are supported and how we have conversations surrounding DEI work. I was really inspired to hear so many other perspectives from other students and how other school communities have been resilient throughout these hard times.”

The theme of this year’s conference was “Reimagining Resiliency with Resolve.” With this theme in mind, PODS explored the expectations that exist around people recovering from difficulties and challenges they face and discussed what their communities would look like if they used determination as a tool to help those in their community. The conference also featured a keynote address from Indigenous rights activist Lyla June who combined traditional lecture with spoken word poetry and singing aspects to leave the school representatives thinking about a variety of ideas to take back to their respective communities.

Christina Rios, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Curriculum at Laurence School, one of the attending schools, said the school hosting the Pollyanna Conference has allowed Laurence to grow and strengthen their diversity, equity and inclusion work.

“Attending the Pollyanna Conference over the past four years has been influential in the development and growth of Laurence’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs,” Rios said. “The speakers, discussion topics and opportunity for collaboration with Los Angeles’ independent school community have played an integral role in our DEI journey as individuals and as a school.”