USN sends delegation to equity, leadership conferences

Twenty-eight students, faculty, and administrators represented University School of Nashville at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.
By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Director of Marketing & Communications

In continuing their commitment to digging into diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts at University School of Nashville, a delegation of six High School students and 22 faculty and administrators of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds traveled to St. Louis, Missouri last week for the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and the concurrent Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

PoCC is the flagship of NAIS’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. Between general sessions in an auditorium with nearly 8,200 people, faculty and administrators were able to choose between 100 workshops on diverse topics relevant to people of color and their allies in independent schools. Meanwhile, students were led through sessions focused on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community to develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. Both adults and students also had the opportunity to spend time with their affinity groups to debrief their professional experiences and find solace and support.

"To be able to work in a school that believes in the value and nurturing of the individual student is fantastic. To be a part of the leadership team at an institution that makes the investment in its faculty to make sure that we are all prepared to support all of our students and families and the vastness of their identities makes this school such a special place to be," said Roderick White, Director of Diversity & Community Life. "Our students come back from SDLC excited to put actions to the diversity leadership plans and ideas that they have had an opportunity to discuss and plan with 1,500 other students from around the country, while our faculty that attend POCC get the chance to explore best practices around creating spaces and curriculum that reaches and enriches all of our students. I am excited to see what the future holds for us as we continue to center our focus on the development of the next generation of leaders while celebrating the richness of our culture of belonging here at USN."

Director Amani Reed and three other independent school administrators recorded podcasts during the conference, interviewing keynote speakers, master class facilitators, and other independent school professionals. NAIS will release the episodes in the months ahead.

Lower School Counselor Trish Buckner and Middle School Counselor Randi Days also hosted a roundtable discussion with 20 independent school faculty. They said they hope to expand their talk to a presentation for the next PoCC.

The four-day trip concluded with High Schoolers sharing reflections on SDLC and what they hope to bring back to their hallways and classrooms with faculty and administrators from their schools. Read about USN students’ experiences in their words below.

"Humans are beautiful and unique and inspiring and confusing and funny. We are brilliantly diverse, challenging, and unique. But why — and I keep asking myself this over and over and over — why do we divide ourselves? To think that I could summarize what I loved, learned, and experienced at the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in a paragraph is unrealistic. But what I can say in this short sentence, is that in the face of any issue, we are resilient. We push through. Why do we feel like an issue that affects the Black community, the Latin/é community, Jewish community has to be addressed by only the community affected? Activism is not just for certain subsets of humanity whenever they're hurting. If they bleed, we bleed. Because after all, we are all human." — Binyam Dunne '26

"Often, in a community as sheltered as USN, it can be difficult to cultivate outside perspectives that are essential to connecting with the individuals around us. Attending SDLC taught me that leadership is the key to communicating our differences and identifiers and how we can come together to honor them. Before walking in, I believed leadership was linked to titles or positions, whether it meant the secretary of this or the president of that. That being a leader meant you had to be the loudest voice in the room. Engaging in communicative activities at SDLC, such as the silent movements or “This or That,” allowed me to frame and interact in a safe space with people who shared the same identity as me and came from different Common Cultural Identifier backgrounds. In these spaces, I was reminded that true leadership is empowering others. It is reminding others of their own potential and motivating them to keep sharing their personal narrative. As I believe Dr. Omekongo said best, going forward, commit to listening. What are we going to do as a school to augment the voices of people who remain too scared to speak? Are we elevating those voices or burying them deeper? I can work towards providing spaces inside and outside of the classroom for every voice to speak their truth from the 'I perspective,' whether that begins with affinity forums to understand varying experiences across cultural groups, or keynote speakers to inspire lower, middle, and upper school students to nurture change, we can move towards an environment abundant with not toleration, but acceptance. Acceptance to love, acceptance to speak, and acceptance to connect. " — Carmen Gaskin '25

"I had an incredible experience at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. The feeling of being surrounded by so many other people who looked like me was amazing, and I quickly built connections with both students and faculty from schools all over the country. 

During the conference, I developed the skills necessary to lead and participate in productive conversations. I continued to learn the importance of genuine listening and processing other viewpoints when in disagreements and how these disagreements only lead to growth when both sides feel comfortable enough to share their full viewpoints. The open environment for discussion at the conference is one that would greatly benefit USN and the other attendees, and I will work to promote this environment in our school community.

Through these discussions and listening to several inspiring speakers, I learned about how students like myself can make real impacts on their school communities. I gained the courage that will be required to seek change in areas that I believe need change, and I am confident that the takeaways I have from my time at the conference will allow me to help promote an even more dynamic, inclusive, and understanding culture at USN. 

Being a part of the SDLC Asian Affinity had a much greater impact on me than I could have imagined. It was so empowering to be with hundreds of other Asian students, meet one another, and relate our experiences. For me, just talking to other Asian students and having fun with them was extremely valuable, and I gained many ideas on how to make the Asian Affinity group at USN even more connected. 

One takeaway that the other USN students in attendance and I all had was the need to have spaces in which people from many different identities can connect and share dialogue. Our affinity and identity groups have strong individual presences at the school, and I believe that the school’s culture could greatly benefit from these groups coming together for dynamic conversations and discussions. We have already begun to form plans for these interconnections and are excited to see them take off." — Adam Wang '24

"Coming into SDLC for the second time, I was prepared to be amazed; I was. There is no feeling comparable to being in a room filled with over 8,000 people ready to attack issues regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion or a room with over 200 Latinx students with similar stories of being a minority in private schools. 

From my time last year, I knew the best thing I could do was hear people's stories. Right away, I was able to have meaningful conversations with people from all over the world. I heard from a Black student who was literally physically isolated from people who looked like her being from Hawaii. I spoke with a Mexican student about the cultural differences moving to Rhode Island from Mexico City and the lack of community. One by one, students in my family group told stories of times they felt disempowered in their respective communities because of a comment made, an act committed, or the demographic of their location. 

These stories come from a sentiment of isolation within the private school sphere. I too have experienced similar experiences of isolation in my time at USN. As a senior, I want to use my last months at USN to alleviate this feeling of isolation and construct a well-connected Latinx community at USN. 

I had the same breathtaking experience entering the room packed with Latinx students in my affinity group. Almost instinctively, we started embracing our culture dancing, singing, and laughing together. We discussed colorism, representation, and indigenous culture regarding the Latinx community in the United States. Again, there was an almost perfect balance between having fun and diving into deep conversations, both meaningful in their own right. One of the most powerful experiences was leaving the room chanting ‘Sí se puede,’ feeling the power in our voices. After my time in the affinity group, I felt energized and my soul full. 

Coming back to USN, I hope to solidify a community for students of color well after I graduate. We are preparing to have many collaborations in the future between affinity groups and possibly outside organizations as well. I am very grateful to be able to go to such a powerful experience, and I hope to take back the feeling of wonder that I get by feeling seen and heard." — Nick Venable '24


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USN Mission: 
University School of Nashville models the best educational practices. In an environment that represents the cultural and ethnic composition of Metropolitan Nashville, USN fosters each student’s intellectual, artistic, and athletic potential, valuing and inspiring integrity, creative expression, a love of learning, and the pursuit of excellence.