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The Conversation Continues

Amid the surge of identity-centered conversations last year that focused on issues of race, gender, and sexuality, Continuing the Conversation was born. Originally founded by Leila Narisetti (‘20), this conversation-fostering program provides spaces for students to have conversations about social issues facing Packer and the country at large.

Leila, along with Jolie Krebs (‘20), Julian Isikoff (‘20), Noor Valvani (‘20), Kai Cedeno (‘19), Daisy Zuckerman (‘20) and their faculty advisor Semeka Smith-Williams, Director of Diversity and Equity, are resuming Continuing the Conversation from last year.

“I hope that the program becomes integrated into the curriculum in a way that allows teachers and faculty to use it as a tool when they come across a problem that they don’t understand,” Leila said. She hopes that it becomes a staple in schools throughout New York City, so that conversations about these issues can spread past the walls of Packer.

Ms. Smith-Williams, Director of Diversity and Equity, became the program’s faculty advisor after being contacted by Leila. “I think part of it is so many of the conversations really fall under diversity and equity,” she said. “Though I think sometimes our definitions of diversity and equity [are] kind of limited. So, I think engaging in dialogue and thinking about who we are and the things that we have is connected to that.”

This year, Ms. Smith-Williams hopes that students will drive the work and conversations. “I absolutely want to make sure that students are at the center of this,” she added. “I think that [students] all have a sense of the culture, and what people are saying when they’re not in the earshot of a teacher that might be troubling, or might be really fantastic and we’re not realizing.

“While some people in the community think ‘Really? We have to keep talking about this?’ we keep talking about certain topics because they keep coming up. I think microaggressions and microinsults keep happening with regards to gender and equity or keep coming up in regards to racial differences in our community. So if those topics keep resurfacing it’s because we haven’t completed the work,” Ms. Smith-Williams fervently continued.

This year “it’s a lot more diversity based, and a lot about race,” Jolie said. She added that if there is a demand for conversations covering the LGBTQ+ community, they might include those types of conversations in the agenda.

“We want to include Packer voices, so we’re asking people to come up to us and say what they want to discuss,” Julian explained. He also hopes that the new head of school will get involved in these conversations. “To put this on a larger scale, if someone in the new position could get involved and have a voice, that would be awesome.We would love to hear their thoughts as well.”

“I hope to achieve many conversations that go beyond us recognizing that there is a problem,” Leila, the founder of this program, stated. “I want the conversations to not only pertain to Packer in terms of discussing the use of the N-word and white privilege, but go beyond that. I want conversations to be had about what it means to be a person of color during the era of Trump, [among other things].”

Overall, these conversations will attempt to foster better communication in our school. Many students think of Packer as a place that’s not, to quote Ms. Smith-Williams “that bad.” She, along with the other leaders, are not looking for “not bad,” though. They are looking for us to do better.

Maddie Gunnell is currently a senior at The Packer Collegiate Institute and the social media editor and Cylinder editor for the Packer Prism this year. Last year, she was the photo editor and is excited for her second year at the Prism. She hopes to make the Prism more accessible to the Packer Community, and broaden the web and social media content. She loves History and writing, and is extremely passionate about journalism and its importance in today’s society. Maddie loves her dog more than she loves the rest of her family, and most of all loves taking pictures of her dog. Maddie can be reached at

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