On Monday evening I walked into a classroom in Founders Hall laden with pizza and plates. Members of the Student Diversity Committee were already seated around the table brainstorming ideas and refining plans for this year's third annual Equity Conference. "We have to finalize the workshop list!", says one student, just as another chimes in, "I've talked to people on dorm and they want to help with..." and another interrupts with, "Do we have to limit the sign ups? There are too many interesting choices!" Their enthusiasm is palpable and energy buzzing. The genesis of this conference originated three years ago when a group of intrepid students proposed the idea of offering workshop sessions to explore issues relating to equity and diversity. These student and faculty-led workshops range from small group discussions to hands-on exercises to film screenings. With each session we are able to come into closer contact with one another, to deepen our connection as a community, and to sharpen the skills we all need in order to lead equitable lives on campus and beyond.
The conference will kick off tonight at 9:00 p.m. following a lecture by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Colson Whitehead, author of the The Underground Railroad. After his talk, the entire student body will reflect on Whitehead's talk and prepare for Saturday's workshops by participating in a silent movement activity. This exercise invites students to reflect on whom they are through the lens of gender, race, class, ability, political affiliation, and worldview orientation. On Saturday morning, students will lead a variety of workshops such as, "Exploring Cultural Appropriation in Everyday Language," "Colorism in the Latinx and Hispanic Community," "The Body Positivity Movement," and "Play Writing to Reflect Society." Faculty-sponsored workshops include, "The Economics of College Admissions and Cost," "Boys and Their Feelings," and "Representation, Accuracy and Creative License in Theatre and Movies." In the Roach house, LGBTQ students will share their experiences as members of the St. Andrew's community, while Head of School Tad Roach will facilitate a session entitled "Race and Basketball: The Story of Loyola Chicago's 1963 Men's NCAA championship."
Every session offered in this year's Equity Conference—whether a documentary on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, or a seminar on water equity and environmental justice offered by Tess Pendergrast, an instructor and researcher in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University—has at its core two key questions: What does it mean to better understand the perspective of another person? How do our own habits change once we do? While civic engagement and dialogue about equity can take many forms, it always requires intellectual curiosity and an ethos of inquiry. It demands a practice of questioning that students are ready and willing to engage.
The close of our meeting finds one student saying, "One hour isn't enough time for a workshop! There isn't enough time!" I, too, feel that same urgency. As an alumnae it is thrilling to see current students so deeply passionate and absorbed in the issues most pressing us today. I cannot wait to feel the campus vibrate tonight and on Saturday morning. It will be the hum of the next generation of poets, activists, thinkers, and leaders answering the call to envision a more equitable world.
- Faculty Essays