By Natalie Kalitsi ‘18
NCS Diversity Forum 2018 began with an opening assembly in the Cathedral. I gave the welcoming address, Priya Phillips spoke about her grandfather’s struggle to pursue success, and Jada Fife offered a reflection on her pursuit of the American Dream and her confrontations her age and gender. Our keynote speaker, National Poetry Slam Winner Gayle Danley, performed a piece about her childhood aspirations, her relationship with her mother, and how her American Dream has manifested itself in her life as it is now.
Immediately following the morning gathering, Upper School students proceeded to their first workshop of the day, where student-facilitators guided classmates through an exploration of how much one’s personal values align with the idealized values of the American Dream. This first workshop offered students a chance for personal reflection about their own affiliation with the American Dream and about how their definition aligned (or differed) from the ideals of the American Dream perpetuated throughout popular culture.
Next came a series of grade-wide activities. Teachers led a spectrum activity, in which students expressed their agreement/disagreement with statements read aloud by standing between the polar ends of the room. As facilitators read statements such as “I believe America’s large prison population contradicts the foundation of liberty that America prides itself on,” or “I believe that we focus too much on this country’s past,” students found the opportunity to discuss with those around them about why they hold their particular beliefs, and how those beliefs could be challenged by those with opposing views. The spectrum activity became a physical representation of the diversity of opinion existent within each grade and the Upper School as a whole.
After the spectrum, each grade proceeded into fishbowl exercises. During these fishbowl exercises, each grade had the opportunity to discuss their personal stories in front of their classmates. With the entire grade sitting in a circle around a small set of chairs, students would sit in the middle and share their personal connection to topics with the rest of their classmates. Students were asked to share their personal experiences with ____ and the American Dream (i.e. religion and the American Dream, race and the American Dream, etc.). While the activity generally started out slow, many courageously opened up to their classmates about the trials and silent struggles they endure as both members of this community and people living in America today. The fishbowl activity brought back many of the concepts groups had discussed in workshops into a much more personal and relatable setting.
After a quick lunch, the Upper School went through teacher-led workshops. This year, each department had the opportunity to design a hour long workshop that demonstrating how their discipline related to the day’s theme. With titles like “Consumerism and the American Dream”, to “Words as An Agent of Change,” these works shops not only allowed teachers to intersect their own realm of knowledge into Diversity Forum, but also gave students the opportunity to learn about the American Dream as it relates to aspects that they wouldn’t always have the chance to explore in other scenarios.
The day concluded in Shifter, where senior editor for the Atlantic David Frum, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Nicole Austin-Hillery, and Deputy Vice President of the Institute for Hispanic Health, Rita Carreon, constituted our political panel. The three spent an hour discussing the American Dream as it relates to politics, how policies and demographic shifts have affected it, how those in this country view the American Dream, and how this changes the manner in which they try to pursue it.
Lastly, Gayle Donley joined us once again to MC the Diversity Forum talent show. Both Middle and Upper schoolers gave a number of musical and dramatic poetic performances at this wonderful gathering.