Hawken junior Amber Johnson puts it this way. “I have never been more inspired to be the change in my life.”
Johnson is referring to her experience at the National Association of Independent School’s Student Diversity Leadership Conference, held in December in National Harbor, Maryland. Participation in the three day conference was part of the course, Leadership and Diversity through Self Reflection and Mentorship, taught by Jane Botella, Hawken Upper School Spanish teacher and Inclusion Coordinator. Some of the “essential questions” the course addressed included “What potential do you see in yourself as a leader?” and “How can your voice … affect change …”
The conference, now in its 20th year, brings together upper school student leaders from around the country for the purpose of examining issues of justice; developing effective cross-cultural communication skills; and applying the leadership principles they develop within their own communities.
Pre-conference work began with students using memoirs and reflection to strengthen their own self-understanding and acceptance. After the conference, the students returned to the Gates Mills campus to plan a 5th grade workshop where conference activities would be retailored for younger students to help develop and strengthen the younger students’ skills of self- and peer acceptance.
“The specific ideas we addressed were: bullying, bursting out of your comfort zone, and … acceptance of difference,” said Isabella Kusner, a Hawken junior from Mayfield Heights.
Studies indicate self-acceptance has an impact on both the bully and those who are bullied. Dr. Mary Lamia wrote in Psychology Today that bullies, who sometimes come from abusive home environments, seem primarily motivated by self-shame– afraid that their failures or shortcomings will be exposed. Their targets are usually shy and withdrawn.
A Yale University study shows that suicide rates for both groups are 2-9% higher than the unaffected population, with its impact even shown in increased rates for witnesses of bullying incidents.
The fifth grade workshop activities included creating individual student “identity maps” which reflected their culture, religion, tastes, hobbies and likes/dislikes. Through other activities students were asked to express “validations” of other students.
“We pointed out the difference between a validation and a compliment, but the students understood quite well after all of the day’s activities,” said Johnson.
Fifth grader Ariel Steiger from Chagrin Falls, captured her feelings about the workshop in her summary, “They told us not to be afraid to be ourselves.”
Hawken School is an independent, nonsectarian, coed day school of 984 students, grades pre-K through 12, located on two campuses in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, and an urban extension center at University Circle. Founded in 1915, Hawken is recognized as one of the premier college preparatory schools in the nation with a diverse student body participating in a challenging program of academics, arts, and athletics that prepares them to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s world.