When educational consultant and motivational speaker David Watts recounts his seven-year tenure as a police officer, he remembers the visible toll the job took on his health and the prisoners’ cynical attitudes towards him. Watts eventually changed careers, embracing diversity and multiculturalism in order to come to terms with his biracial identity. Now, he speaks at schools in workshops and educational activities.
“I figured out being diagnosed as biracial is so much more than race, I figured out it was about identity and how to talk to people. This is stuff I’ve experienced that everyone can relate to at some point or another, so from listening to speakers to going to professional conferences, and being a part of workshops, I was like this is something that I feel–at the end of the day–is much more important than any essay on Shakespeare or Pythagorean theorem in geometry class. But I feel like these life lessons–these tools of knowing how to speak to and appreciate people– are tools that are going to help people become better people,” Watts said.
The focus for January’s Diversity Week, according to leaders of the student Diversity Committee, was to broaden students’ perspectives on issues affecting minority groups and create a safe, inclusive space for students to express their opinions prior to the week.
“[I want] everyone to be involved and actually be passionate about it [Diversity Week] and really be interested in the conversations we’re planning on having,” senior Dylan Roman-Holba said.
Like Watts, filmmaker Lacey Schwartz said she struggled to reconcile her biracial identity as a child. After discovering that the white, Jewish man she believed was her father was not her birth-father, Schwartz learned her biological father is black. Schwartz said she wants to create spaces where people don’t have to choose between pieces of themselves. Adding to her interest in diversity, she said her interest was sparked by a lack of diversity in her community.
“For me I grew up in a space that just wasn’t diverse, it was much more monocultural, and I felt really out of sorts with that, and so I think that the idea of diversity, it’s not like diversity is what we should think is good, I actually think it really is genuinely the most enjoyable for me to be around different people and not have it where one group is the norm. I relish different kinds of people and I think it [diversity] makes us better,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz and other presenters shared something Diversity Club members believe: that with greater understanding of issues affecting minority groups, students will feel passionate towards diversity in their everyday lives and will be more willing to participate in group discussions.
“I want to help the student body expand their horizons on certain issues,” junior Duncan Miller said. “There are a lot of issues that aren’t really talked about in the day-to-day lives of students since we live in a bubble, as was mentioned last year in the yearbook, but I think that if we approach it [diversity] the ‘right’ way, then we can really strike a chord in all the students here.”
Defining the ‘right’ way of approaching diversity appears difficult, according to Miller, but he hoped students approached Diversity Week with open minds and positive attitudes so that the week would be beneficial to everyone. The members of the committee also wanted students to better understand what diversity at school means given some students’ unwillingness to participate or even enjoy Diversity Week last year.
English professor Dustin Marquel, who ran a workshop on the intersection of social justice and social networking named “#Activism: Social Justice in 140 Characters or Less,” said he uses his experience as a student at Oakwood School to connect and engage with private school students, reflect on inequalities, and educate his students about Black American identity, art, and culture.
“I found myself wanting to expose my students to experiences that they would otherwise never have to think about,” Marquel said.
The passion for diversity held by Watts, Schwartz, and Marquel is shared among members of the student Diversity Committee, who planned Diversity Week, hoping their peers would be more open towards the activities during the day and then be passionate towards diversity in their everyday lives.
“[Diversity is] accepting and embracing everyone for who they are and creating a safe environment for everyone to not feel judged because of any part of their being,” senior Jillian Halperin said.
This year’s diversity week sought to improve upon previous issues from last year, like students’ fear of being judged by classmates, according to junior Berkeley Morgan.
“I definitely want to encourage kids to step out of their comfort zone because we want to have one of those breakthrough moments where students are able to acknowledge their identity in a safe space,” Morgan said. “A lot of it [diversity programming] is really student led, so I’m excited for the workshops, hearing student input, having open discussions, and I’m also really excited for interactive assemblies.”
Members of the diversity committee believed the week was successful in terms of educating and inspiring students to change their perspectives.
“Students felt more comfortable to share and more willing to open their minds to the ideas presented [during Diversity Week]. In that regard, I think we were successful, but I also think it was a fun week for a lot of students. I know people really enjoyed the food trucks and the programs with their friends,” Miller said.