INSIGHT: Reflecting on PoCC and SDLC 2022

By Dr. Ed Castro, EICL Co-Coordinator

Many attend conferences centered on education with a particular goal in mind. Some teachers may want to explore classroom culture or become more informed about the latest technique related to their subject. I am no different, typically looking through the conference program to help enhance my ability to teach music and improve the student experience in my classrooms. However, sometimes I need something different out of a conference. Sometimes, I need rejuvenation and validation that I still love my work and that I am not alone in my institution in the necessary work that is done at my school.

The NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) happened in person this year, and we are excited to send a contingent of faculty and staff from EPS. PoCC is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and sustainability for independent schools. PoCC’s mission is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. This conference offers a space for people of color who live and work at Independent Schools to see one another, celebrate one another, and learn from one another.

When reflecting on what proved to be an exciting and exhausting week of events, the People of Color Conference and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference lived up to my living memory of their importance to me as a faculty member of color at EPS. This year’s conferences were in person in San Antonio, Texas. Six students, Ms. Karla Harris and I, traveled there at the start of the winter trimester.

Personal Work

In many ways, educational experiences extend into one’s personal life. A theme both students and adults of color experience living with are unpacking feelings as an outsider from the many facets of our own identities. I had the chance to speak with folks who are first or second-generation Americans, who are not considered American “enough” at home, but who then return to their family’s country of origin and are made to feel like a foreigner. Unpacking these feelings, too, in a room with a few hundred people who have had the same experience is incredibly powerful. In my own experience as the firstborn, first-generation American citizen in my family, the very idea of who you are in relation to the rest of your family becomes apparent at a young age. As I was called the “American” when visiting the Dominican Republic with my parents and knowing and being reminded that I come from a family of immigrants while living and working in the United States. The microaggressions I experienced over the course of my childhood, into adulthood, and as a professional musician and educator shaped how I saw myself. Working in a workshop at PoCC, through aspects of my identity in workshops designed for folks who deal with and gain an understanding of African roots within your Latinx heritage, really helped me gain a level of peace with my own place in the communities a am a part of.  Grappling with that understanding of myself helps me see students who might be in the same place I was as a young man. Workshops like these help me become a better, more empathetic educator.

Students’ Experience

As a chaperone for students attending the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), I have the privilege of debriefing each day with students. Similar to my experience, students have the opportunity to do identity work for themselves. They can also learn from teachers who can speak from personal experience about navigating the independent school system as a person of color.

The clearest way to show how this conference helps students feel fully themselves and grow is through their own words:

Rarely have I ever felt like everyone in the room could truly understand me. Not in the sense of acknowledging my existence but in the solidarity for which we shared a personal relationship with what a Hispanic and Latino culture means at its core because we had all experienced it. There was no need to explain myself or defend long-standing traditions – everyone just understood me.

Some of the best moments of empowerment were when we were asked, “What made you think you could show up like that?” And the answer was simple, “because my humanity is not up for debate.”
It was incredible to see a talent show of people of color with the same artistic interest I have. Watching a Black cellist play his heart out after watching an excellent ballerina perform who looked like me was a highlight. I have not seen representation from people my age in this way before.

I also felt comfortable and confident enough to have an honest conversation with the adults in my life about identity. The good and the bad of it.

One quote from a fellow student stuck with me. It was about his experience with having lighter skin color and dealing with racism. “I’m definitely white-skinned, but I don’t feel white.” Another favorite moment was debriefing the day’s activities with late-night meals and snacks!

These quotes are just a few collected this year, and their experiences at SDLC create ripples in our community.

Coming Back

One of the more difficult parts of any trip is coming home and trying to jump in with a daily routine. After experiencing conferences like PoCC and SDLC, reentry can be a bit daunting for both students and adults. There is some catching up on schoolwork and the occasional thought of what is next. How do I use the information I gained from this experience to help foster empathy and understanding in my community? Where do I go from here? For many of us, we use these conferences to recharge and prioritize the work to come. For others, it may be, having a clearer picture of one’s own experience.

Part of the Sanskrit word Maitrī means to have an active interest in others. Perhaps as a teacher, this is what I will do with the momentum I have this year at PoCC.