Skip To Main Content

Mobile Navigation

Calhoun Attends NAIS People of Color & Student Diversity Leadership Conferences

In December, Calhoun sent sixteen school professionals and six Upper School students to attend the 2023 NAIS People of Color (PoCC) and Student Diversity Leadership Conferences (SDLC) in St. Louis, Missouri. The theme of the conference was Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy, and Power. For the past 37 years, educational professionals from all over the country have gathered at PoCC to share ideas, experiences, and fellowship. This conference grew out of early equity initiatives at NAIS and was intended to be a place where faculty and staff of color, whose numbers represented a small portion of the workforce in independent schools, could come together to talk about their experiences, find support, and make progress in their career advancement. SDLC, implemented seven years after PoCC’s inauguration, is a parallel conference and gathering of multiracial and multicultural students from across the country and beyond focused on building community and self-reflection. The school professionals and students started the program together, where they met new people and listened to opening remarks from one of the keynote speakers. Afterwards, they separated into groups of their peers and attended workshops, listened to speakers, and joined affinity spaces. At the end of the conference, students and school professionals reunited and listened to closing remarks together.

While in their groups, Calhoun students were able to connect with peers from similar backgrounds, nationalities, and identities. In guided workshops, they openly discussed the impact of being underrepresented students in their independent schools and how that affects them as learners and members of their communities. They connected with other students on trials and triumphs and discussed the context of these experiences in the world overall. One workshop asked the students to reflect on what they bring to the spaces they enter. Sinmi A. ‘25 explains how it changed her perspective: “SDLC was a powerful and spiritual experience for so many reasons, especially with the new knowledge that was shared. One concept that sticks out is that of space carrying weight—something I had never really considered. I’ve learned that in every space I’m in, words that have been spoken, words that are being spoken and words that will eventually get spoken can contribute to the general energy and productivity in that space.” Together, they explored ideas on how to bring social change to their institutions, as well as methods of bringing the students from similar underrepresented identities together for mutual support. Through these workshops, the students learned a lot about how their identity shapes who they are, and how those identities shape their communities now and in the future. 

Calhoun is fortunate to have seasoned PoCC school professionals, as many of them have attended this conference multiple times in the last two decades. In their workshops this year, the school professionals talked about culturally responsive teaching, how it relates to building a curriculum and working towards decentering singular narratives in the classroom to create more inclusion. They also discussed personal goals, and how these have helped them understand their experiences at their institutions. The objective of these workshops is to dive into their expertise as educators and see what is needed to serve students of color more intentionally and effectively, while working on their own personal development, as it plays a role in that goal as well. These workshops help educators identify areas of growth, but also areas that deserve recognition and they can celebrate: “After 15 years of attending PoCC, and with everything happening in the world around us, it was good to be reminded of what’s core as an educator of color in a private school, but also seek out joyful moments,” says Semeka Smith-Williams, Upper School Dean of Students at Calhoun. 

After the conference, the students and educational professionals met on campus to discuss how they can bring what they learned to Calhoun. They recognized PoCC and SDLC as a resource for their own personal growth, but also for Calhoun’s community. Henry D. ‘24 came back excited about the experience and the impact he can have: “SDLC was a space where I could reflect on my cultural identifiers, my relationship with my identity, and how I show up as a DAB (Diversity and Accountability Board) member and facilitator at Calhoun. It was a space where every person had the motivation not only to discuss but also to enact change; it has inspired me to do more. Now, I re-enter Calhoun with numerous ideas and aspirations while appreciating the work Calhoun has done and understanding how far we must go.” So far, this work has resulted in creating more spaces for students to express themselves and discuss issues of the world as it relates to their identities more openly. 

"When it comes to SDLC, and hearing and collaborating directly from students, I’ve realized that learning from them is the best way for us to affect the change that we’d like to see in our society." Eric Osorio, Assistant Head of School

Additionally, the school professionals discussed how they’ve learned from students in SDLC and how it has informed their decisions in the classroom and other educational spaces. Eric Osorio, Assistant Head of School at Calhoun who’s been attending PoCC for 26 years, believes students are the key to change: “Often as educators and adults, we assume that the responsibility for teaching and mentoring is adult to child. But what’s become clearer to me is that my biggest skill is not how much I talk, but how much I listen, how much I adapt, and how much I learn. When it comes to SDLC, and hearing and collaborating directly from students, I’ve realized that learning from them is the best way for us to affect the change that we’d like to see in our society.” With the leadership of these students and the educators that support them, Calhoun can look forward to more productive, inclusive spaces and students who are ready to have an impact on the community, as well as the world. 


Explore More