Continuing the Conversation into 2019
Throughout the 2017-2018 school year, intersectionality has been at the center of many student led discussions. Race has been considered in tandem with other identifiers, but had yet to be the main focus of conversation. However, as of late spring this year, that all changed.
Leila Narisetti (‘20) is the creator of the workshops entitled Continuing the Conversation that focus specifically on race at Packer and how race differently affects our experiences and senses of self. Unlike affinity groups, these workshops are open to the entire Upper School student and faculty population. There have been five workshops thus far, including ones on Stereotypes and Microaggressions, Race and Sexuality, Positive Privilege, The Use of the N-Word, and The Media and Police Brutality. The workshops have ranged in popularity, and some have even included students from the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in Brooklyn Heights.
In order to turn the amorphous concept of these workshops into a reality, Leila met with Allison Bishop, Upper School Dean of Student Life, and Semeka Smith-Williams, Director of Diversity and Equity. She told them that “[she] wanted this to happen and needed this to happen in order for students like [her], and [her], to feel comfortable in a space like Packer.” From there, Ms. Bishop provided her with dates, while Leila came up with the topics, made announcements to the student body, and recruited workshop leaders.
Julian Isikoff (‘20), Maya Joseph (‘20), and Beverlly Yauri (‘20) led the Race and Sexuality workshop held on May 4th, which explored the connections between race and sexual orientation.
“I’m gay, and I figured that race and sexuality isn’t something that’s really talked about, or at least I haven’t been around when it’s talked about,” Julian explained. “Even though I have one perspective, everyone else has different ones, and I hoped [this would make people] more aware of that.”
Maya volunteered to co-lead the workshop for a similar reason, saying that she wanted to provide people with “time to think about perspectives outside their own within the Packer community.” Both Maya and Julian felt that the workshop was effective in furthering the conversation surrounding race and sexuality, which is one they feel is not discussed heavily enough at Packer.
Leila described the general goal of the workshops as an attempt to provide a place for everyone to understand the role they play regarding race at Packer, and for “every student and every faculty member to…feel like they have a plan for what their next steps are going to be.”
When asked about what she sees the future of these workshops being, Leila revealed that she actually does not want to have to continue having to host them, because she hopes that conversations surrounding race will become more normalized and authentic within the Packer community.
However, given that she understands Packer as a place where “talking about race makes people uncomfortable,” Leila said that the workshops will continue being held next year to ensure that Packer does not become stagnant in terms of making progress surrounding how race operates within our school.
While she does wish that all students would attend the workshops, Leila is of the belief that making them mandatory would cause people to disassociate from the issues, and would ultimately be counterproductive. She has noticed that a majority of students at the workshops are people of color and women, and urges students of all identifiers and backgrounds to attend, regardless of whether or not the issues directly affect them.
Crystal Pereira (‘21) has attended three of the workshops thus far. She plans on attending future workshops as well, because she believes they have been helpful in educating students and faculty on “what members of the Packer community are experiencing.”
When asked whether she would encourage students who have not yet gone to one of the workshops to attend, Crystal responded with an effusive yes, saying that they have achieved what she understands to be their goal of fostering unique and unprecedented conversations.
“I think that these workshops are a really good way to help not only the people that are going through these experiences, but [also] to educate people that might be doing things to other[s] that they aren’t aware of,” she concluded.
These workshops were created not only as a way to provide people of color with a safe, comfortable space to discuss race within Packer, but also as an opportunity for white students to educate themselves and become more aware of the ways in which they contribute to attitudes regarding race both at Packer and outside of its walls.
“The workshops aren’t just for me,” Leila reminded us. “They’re beneficial to everyone and they educate everyone.”