Diversity and Inclusion

TH Hosts Diversity Conference for Independent Schools

Independent-school students discussed ways to celebrate diversity and fight social injustice at their schools during a Multicultural and Leadership Conference at Tower Hill.

During the March 1 conference for independent schools, about 40 students from eight schools in Delaware and Pennsylvania watched the documentary film “Paperclips” and talked about stereotypes.

The film tells the story of middle school students in Tennessee who collected millions of paperclips to represent holocaust victims. During the paperclip project, the students learned about accepting people despite their differences.

Learning to accept others is important for independent-school students because many independent schools have fewer minority students than public schools, said Jorge Pardo, director of multicultural affairs at the Tower Hill School.

Independent schools are tuition-supported schools that are not controlled by the government, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

Pardo said independent schools are changing and the reputation schools receive for lacking diversity is undeserved. Nineteen percent of the students at Tower Hill are minorities and 25 percent of students receive financial aid, he said.

Even though minority enrollment is increasing, minority students at independent schools tend to feel outcast because most of their fellow students are white, said Pardo.

Students at Tower Hill organized the conference to empower their peers to stop insensitivity toward minority students, he said.

Insensitivity can cause minority students to deny their heritage or ignore their roots to try to fit in with the rest of the student body, said Pardo.

Diversity emphasized

The conference showed students that it is okay to be different and emphasized the diversity at independent schools, Pardo said.

Emphasizing diversity is important because people have inaccurate assumptions about independent schools, said Caroline Godden, a senior at Tower Hill.

“If you go to Tower Hill you are assumed to be white and at least upper-middle class,” she said. “Your dad is a CEO and your mom spends her mornings at the country club playing tennis. But I am here on financial aid, my parents are divorced and my mother is a lesbian.”

Godden, 18, a Hockessin resident helped organize the conference to challenge those assumptions and help students understand how to deal with diversity at their schools, she said.

Many students do not understand that racial slurs and homophobic language are hurtful and Godden said it is important to change students’ perceptions.

If a student limits his or her perceptions by stereotyping a group of people, that student limits his or her potential, said Virginia Nicholson, a junior at Tower Hill. Everyone is unique and embracing those differences instead of ignoring or ridiculing them brings everyone closer, she said.

Bringing more diversity to independent schools is important, said Morgan Dorsey, a black student at Wilmington Friends School. Dorsey, a senior, said students at Wilmington Friends are not usually insensitive, but a lack of diversity at school hurts students of every race.

“I don’t think we would be able to work if people were not different, if people did not have different backgrounds and different perspectives,” she said.

Dorsey, a Wilmington resident, said the conference was beneficial because she could share her perspective with others.

People do not talk about race and ethnicity because the topics make some people uncomfortable, said Marius Falaris, a junior at the Tatnall School. If students talk about their differences, they will find they have common ground, said Falaris, 16, an Elkton, Md., resident.

Diversity is more than just black and white, said Joya Ahmad, a freshman at William Penn Charter School. Ahmed is Asian and said she is sometimes overlooked when people talk about diversity.

“For years, I filled in the ‘other’ box on standardized tests,” she said. “Now, I am mixed in with the Pacific Islanders. Everybody deserves their own box.”

Ahmad, 15, a Philadelphia resident, said diversity is as much about emotions as it is about skin color. What a person believes makes them different and those differences need to be recognized, she said.

Recognizing diversity is the first step to making changes, said Jordan Hastie, a junior at Tatnall. Hastie is black and said people make fun of her because she attends a predominately white school. She laughs at their comments and brushes off their insults, but said a support group of other minority students is beneficial.

“It is good to know I am not alone,” said Hastie, 16, a Newark resident. “Other people know there needs to be change going on.”

Students Receiving Financial Aid - The following is information on the percent of minority students and students receiving financial aid at independent schools that attended Tower Hill’s Multicultural and Leadership Conference:

Tower Hill School: 19 percent minority students, 25 percent of students receive financial aid

Tatnall School: 12 percent minority students, 17 percent of students receive financial aid

Wilmington Friends School: 23 percent minority students, 21 percent of students receive financial aid

Upland Country Day School: 6 percent minority students, 18 percent of students receive financial aid

St. Andrew’s School: 25 percent minority students, 45 percent of students receive financial aid

William Penn Charter School: 25 percent minority students, 33 percent of students receive financial aid

Friends’ Central School:
22 percent minority students, 26 percent of students receive financial aid

Westtown School: 20 percent minority students, 41 percent of upper school students, 16 percent of middle school students and 11 percent of lower school students receive financial aid.

By By Adam Zewe - The Community News
Published with permission of The Community News