American civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw opened the thirtieth anniversary of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Anaheim, Calif. last week with a moving speech on intersectionality, a term she herself both researched and coined.
The PoCC hosted nearly six thousand educators and students from independent schools across the country, including 25 faculty members from Andover. The three-day conference aims to provide an opportunity for networking, leadership, and professional development for people of color and allies of all backgrounds, according to the NAIS website.
“I definitely have never seen so many people of color in one room,” said Lilia Cai-Hurteau, Chair of the Chinese and Japanese Departments.
The conference featured 30 to 50 workshops every hour centered around race, class, ethnicity, and gender. Teachers had the opportunity to connect with affinity groups and attend dozens of expert-led workshops with topics including “Teaching Toni Morrison to Dismantle White Supremacy,” “Beyond Black and White: Using Multiracial and Asian American Voice to Complicate the Racial Binary,” and “ABCs of TRAs (Transracial Adoptees).”
One of the exercises that remained clearest in the mind of Jennifer Quijas, Teaching Fellow in English, was one in which large sheets of paper were taped on the wall. Each sheet featured a term such as “intersectionality,” “race,” “gender,” “whiteness,” “fluidity,” “spectrum,” and “binary.” Participants were asked to stick a certain colored post-it note next to what they were most familiar with, a second colored Post-it note next to what they were least familiar with, and a third color on someone else’s contribution that especially resonated with them.
The Post-it note that resonated with Quijas the most was one that brought up the issue of not being black enough.
“Although I am not black, and I don’t know what that experience is like, I have a similar struggle with my own identity growing up. [I would ask myself] ‘Am I Mexican enough if I don’t speak Spanish as much as someone else? If I celebrate a Mexican holiday that they don’t, does that make them less Mexican?’ ” said Quijas.
She continued, “During that seminar, I also thought about my own implicit bias or internalized racism. Now that I’m learning more, [I think that] people can express their Mexican identity however they want, similar to the way that someone can express their gender however they choose to, or their sexuality or whatever it may be.”
For Cai-Hurteau, the workshop run by Justine Fonte, a sex educator at the Dalton School New York City, inspired her to create better connections between sex education and social justice. Cai-Hurteau is working towards incorporating what she learned at the conference as a faculty advisor for a Martin Luther King Day workshop on a similar topic.
She said, “That whole #MeToo thing going on with rape culture and sexual assault connects to social justice and how women are being treated in general… The intersectionality of all that and how women of color are more targets, but they talk about it less. There’s less data.”
Jonathan Sit, Teaching Fellow in Biology, said that the environment at PoCC felt more open than that of Andover.
Sit said, “People there were on the same wavelength — really going in and being like, ‘Ah yes, we can finally talk about this!’ You felt heard, you felt understood… While Andover does pride itself in being more progressive than other independent schools, there still feels like an air of ‘I don’t feel comfortable bringing this up,’ or ‘I don’t feel safe bringing this up.’ You have to find people who are willing to talk about it. And it’s not everybody.”
After his experience with an affinity group during the conference, Donald Kost, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, plans to create a transracial adoptee affinity group at Andover. Kost said that at Andover, he often felt that there was no space specifically for people like him.
“I’m Asian American but I was raised by white parents. So initially, when I went to the Asian Society, I felt like I didn’t know what was going on. It didn’t fit me… Some of these people that are in the forties and fifties have never heard the term ‘transracially adopted.’ I think getting that earlier could be really valuable to some students,” said Kost.
Aya Murata, Associate Director in College Counseling and Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion Course Head, has attended the PoCC a total of ten times.
Murata said, “It can be overwhelming, so I think no matter your background or living experiences, coming to the conference can have you question things… The best way to embrace that is with your heart wide open, mind wide open, and no preconceived notions of how you think it will unfold. Expect that the conference will not tie up with a nice pink bow at the end.”