Students and Faculty Attend People of Color Conference

From+left+to+right%3A+Beatrice+Agbi+%2721%2C+Kamsi+Onwochei+%2720%2C+Hutshie+Faugas+%2720%2C+Aroon+Sankoh+%2721%2C+Leah+Pothel+%2721

Courtesy of Aroon Sankoh '21

From left to right: Beatrice Agbi '21, Kamsi Onwochei '20, Hutshie Faugas '20, Aroon Sankoh '21, Leah Pothel '21

From December 4 to 7, seven Groton educators and six students attended the People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Seattle, Washington. Hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools, PoCC is a unique opportunity for students and educators to broaden their perspectives, build leadership skills, and share ideas, according to the conference’s website. 

This year, Director of Inclusion Outreach Carolyn Chica, along with Director of Theater Laurie Sales, Director of College Counseling Megan Harlan, Chinese teacher Shannon Jin, English teacher Sravani Sen-Das, Ethics teacher Celine Ibrahim, and Librarian Mark Melchior, accompanied a student group consisting of Kamsi Onwochei ’20, Hutshie Faugas ’20, Leah Pothel ’21, Obinna Nwaokoro ’21, Aroon Sankoh ’21, and Beatrice Agbi ’21. 

Over the spring and summer, Ms. Chica and Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) club heads worked to select the attendees based on their applications. Ms. Chica considered “content and timeliness of their application, their prior experience with PoCC, grade, and their commitments to D&I initiatives on campus.”

Aroon explained that the prospect of discussing important issues with a diverse group of students initially appealed to him in the application process. “I decided to apply because as a boarding school student, I have not really been exposed to people of similar heritage,” Aroon said. “Through PoCC, I can be immersed in a diverse environment that is welcoming and open to the exchange of ideas.”

Recognizing that effective communication stems from listening and sharing, Obinna echoed Aroon’s sentiment, adding, “I wanted to have a dialogue regarding anything from our similarities and differences to the social justice issues we would like to face and tackle.”

Groton maintains yearly representation at the PoCC, which attracts over 6,400 educators and 7,000 students from hundreds of independent schools. Ms. Chica explained that Groton’s goals at this conference are to “both share insight as to how we approach Diversity & Inclusion as well as to learn more from others.” 

Classroom teachers attended workshops specific to their subject and networking sessions within similarly divided professional groups. They also participated in workshops that focused on topics ranging from sessions on anti-racist STEM education to data analysis in cultural and institutional change. Finally, teachers’ schedules were filled with pre-conference seminars, general sessions with keynote speakers, and dialogue sessions. 

Mrs. Jin discovered her niche through Asian affinity group meetings. She said, “This conference reassured me that there was a space for Asian educators to meet and share ideas. I have always been confused as to where Asians belong in people of color, but to see over 500 Asian educators at PoCC really showed that the Asian educational community wants to play an active role in making our schools better.”

On the other hand, students participated in a subset of the larger PoCC conference called the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). While it offers fewer choices for workshops, SDLC focuses primarily on self-reflection and community building. 

Students initially spent time in affinity groups that were based on their respective racial or ethnic identity, allowing for intimate discussions with people who all shared a similar cultural heritage. Later on, SDLC provided a platform for students to practice expressing their own opinions through student-led administrator-student dialogues. Presenting prompts for discussion on a gamut of topics such as race, socioeconomic status, and education, students stimulated interactive dialogue between themselves and their schools’ educators. 

Mrs. Jin commented, “We educators trusted the students to ask the right questions, and they trusted us to respond with transparency. I commend Groton students’ bravery in asking potentially sensitive questions.”        

Reflecting on the overall benefits of PoCC, Ms. Chica said, “PoCC rejuvenates and inspires participants to promote positive change in their institutions. It is a life-changing experience for many, and I hope we can take more students in the future.” This year’s attendees will share their experiences through D&I club meetings, Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, and the Spring Community Gathering.