Each year, NAIS, or the National Association of Independent Schools, sponsors a People of Color Conference (PoCC) and a Student Diversity Leadership Conference. The first PoCC took place in 1986. The conferences are usually held in December in different locations across the country. In the words of NAIS, “The mission of the NAIS People of Color Conference is to provide a safe space for networking and a professional development opportunity for people, who, by virtue of their race or ethnicity, comprise a form of diversity termed 'people of color' in independent schools. PoCC serves as an energizing, revitalizing gathering for people who experience independent schools differently.”
What Happens During the People of Color Conference?
The People of Color Conference is not intended to be a diversity training workshop, as NAIS also offers the Diversity Leadership Institute. Instead, it is a place that encourages conversations about advancing equality for people of different races and ethnicities. The conference offers a number of speakers from a range of fields, including politics, arts, and journalism. The conference includes general sessions as well as workshops, receptions and networking events, book signings, and student-led adult/student dialogues. There are also screenings of films, such as The Prep School Negro, a 53-minute documentary film by André Robert Lee, who grew up in the ghettoes of Philadelphia and who won a full scholarship to a private school. His film explores his experience at his private school, as well as the experiences of current students of color at private schools. Previous and upcoming speakers include Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More;” novelist and MIT professor Junot Diaz; Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate who served as an openly gay man in the military and who is an advocate of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights and the rights of veterans; Helene Cooper, a New York Times correspondent who was born in Liberia and who fled the country in 1980 and wrote a memoir about her experiences; Keshni Kashyap, the author of the graphic novel Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary about an Indian-American teenager in Los Angeles; and Daniel Hernandez, Jr., who was the intern who helped save the life of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when a gunman shot at her and 18 other people in Arizona on January 8, 2011. The conference concludes with a choir performance during the closing ceremonies.
According to NAIS, the PoCC is “a conference by and about people of color and inclusive of all.” Each school that attends the conference decides who to send to represent it.
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) is held at the same time of the People of Color Conference. It is for student leaders in independent high schools (grades 9-12) across the U.S. The student body that gathers for the SDLC is multicultural and multiracial in nature. In the words of NAIS, “SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participants will develop effective crosscultural communication skills, better understand the nature and development of effective strategies for social justice, practice expression through the arts, and learn networking principles and strategies.”
Students gather in both large groups and in smaller discussion groups that encourage conversations among students and among students and adults. Previous conferences have also included community service projects in the community hosting the conference, student dinners, a talent show, and affinity group meetings within race, ethnicity, and gender groups. There are also dialogues between students and adults, as well as regional meetings. Some students work as peer facilitators of the conversations.
Many students who attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference find it inspirational and helpful in discussing and learning about their own identity and that of others, and they have written about their experiences online. Students have also found the conference useful in learning how to use networking and communication to promote the causes of social justice in their schools, in college, and in the years beyond.