The close of 2023 proved enlightening for many of Blair’s faculty, staff and students dedicated to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. In late November, a team of 10 from Blair, comprising six students and four faculty members, departed campus for two conferences in St. Louis, Missouri: the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (POCC) and the Student Diversity and Leadership Conference (SDLC). The annual conferences serve as meeting places for stakeholders in independent schools, offering seminars, classes and workshops aimed at exploring equity and justice in teaching and equipping educators and students with the tools to foster healthy intercultural climates in their communities.
This year’s conferences witnessed an impressive turnout with over 8,000 attendees. Distinguished speakers included the likes of filmmaker and producer Lacey Schwartz Delgado, who spoke to student attendees about using storytelling to bridge societal divides, and Simon Tam, an author, musician and activist well known for winning the landmark Supreme Court case Matal v. Tam in 2017.
Each day, the SDLC’s student participants broke out into groups to develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice and learn the foundations of allyship and networking. For Blair’s Genesis Medina ’25, who studied the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brandenburg v. Ohio with her peers, the exercise proved eye-opening. “There are limits to the First Amendment’s protections of free speech,” Genesis learned, “and they are when that speech threatens ‘imminent lawless action.’” Genesis recognizes the real-world applications of these lessons, especially in the largely wild world of social media frequented by many of her peers. “It’s really important to understand those boundaries.”
Beyond just studying legal precedents and their impact on social justice over time, Genesis and her fellow participants found great value in the conference’s ability to connect students from all over the nation on a deeper level and learn from one another. “It was a wonderful experience,” she recalls. “I came away feeling empowered to break barriers in my own educational journey and to raise awareness.”
Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas, who organized and led the Blair delegation, also emphasized the impact of making connections with fellow educators on the trip. “There’s a real power in the personal connection of being with other educators who are going through a similar experience,” he says. “We came away with a great deal of affirmation of what we’re doing well at Blair and what is working well in other independent schools.”
The conferences not only provided valuable insight into social justice practice and effective teaching strategies but also helped fulfill part of Blair’s mission–to prepare our students to thrive in a diverse and complex world, one they are poised to make better.