Riverdale Students Attend Diversity Conferences Promoting Inclusion
Riverdale offers students the opportunity to participate in many diversity conferences, two of which occurred very recently. The Young Men of Color Symposium and the (Re)defining Power conference for white males occurred on November 12, 2016 at Horace Mann School. Each conference acted as a safe space for students who identify a certain way to make connections and find similarities and differences with other students who identify the same way.
Mr. Dwight Vidale, the Director of Upper School Community Engagement, is one of the founders of the Young Men of Color Symposium and also helped give input for the (Re)defining Power Conference. Anyone who identifies as a young man of color, which Vidale explained means “different things for different people,” could attend the symposium. In the past, African-American students, Asian students, Asian-American students, multiracial, Pacific-Islander, and Middle-Eastern students have participated. Vidale also explained that one of the purposes of the Young Men of Color Symposium is to create space for young men of color to be successful in academic, social, and mental endeavors. Another purpose, however, is more personal to Vidale, a Riverdale alum, as the symposium “is a space that I intentionally created to heal some of my pain and challenges that I had when I went to independent school. Feeling like I didn’t have space to communicate with people or feeling like I didn’t have space to learn about different things,” he said.
Each year, participation in the Young Men of Color Symposium grows and more schools attend. It started off in the Spring of 2010 as a symposium for Riverdale, Horace Mann, and Fieldston, but this year, 41 schools participated from all over the Northeast, stretching from Massachusetts to Washington DC, and to right outside of Philadelphia. Among them, 15 Riverdale students registered.
The (Re)defining Power Conference, which took place at Horace Mann this year, has slightly different goals than the Young Men of Color Symposium. “For (Re)defining Power, I think the goal there is more of an education piece, for many of the participants it’s often times their first time talking explicitly about their whiteness and their masculinity,” Vidale said. Although he acknowledged that the symposium is also educational, it has a focus on “men of color in the community sharing their expertise with the students. So, for example, students are learning about the importance of and power of podcasting or Wall Street 101 or how to prepare for college. And all of those workshops are taught by men of color, some who are teachers and educators in New York City, but many of them are leaders in other industries,” he said.
Freshman Spencer Nachman attended the conference after it was recommended to him by his advisor, Emily Schorr-Lesnick. Nachman explained its purpose and the course of the day.
Students were shown photos of men and were asked to group them “by race, whether it was a man dressed in stereotypically women’s clothes, so we were asked to organize them. So we saw our own assumptions based on our own past experiences,” said Nachman.
Nachman recognized the implicit bias and quick judgements made in day to day life, and said he learned to be more careful about words he uses to describe others’ identities. Although students coming from 22 different schools attended, only about 8 Riverdale students registered. Nachman said “it would definitely be beneficial for more people who are interested and want to learn more [about whiteness] to go.”
Freshman Justin Aguirre attended the Young Men of Color Symposium and thought it was very beneficial. Students learned to “keep an open mind about meeting new, and different people, and to not assume things about someone based on how they look,” said Aguirre.
Aguirre wished there was more Riverdale student participation because “when dealing with diversity, and especially the area of acceptance, I would say that it is super beneficial for more young men [of any race] to attend because it would make Riverdale a more cohesive and understanding community,” he said.
Vidale agrees with Aguirre and thinks conversations about diversity are crucial to have in everyday life all throughout the school year, not just at these optional conferences. Vidale hopes students will think about “what do men get away with that women can’t get away with? How do we use our voice and our privilege to be supportive of others? I think we can be a bit more sensitive and a bit more thoughtful about how we operate in spaces as men, and then when you complicate that with race, I think we can also do that as well,” he said.
Riverdale continues to appreciate and expand its diversity initiative, and Vidale among other community members, both faculty and students, are invested in making community members of all identities feel welcome at school.