Photos by Nancee Lewis Photography
In designing a day to celebrate what makes each of us unique, Parker Upper School students exemplified the School’s mission: to create and inspire a diverse community of independent thinkers whose academic excellence, global perspective and strength of character prepare them to make a meaningful difference in the world.
Following a study abroad trip to Africa, Marisa Turner, Class of 2017, proposed the idea for a Diversity Day at Parker. Marisa reached out to Parker’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Christen Tedrow-Harrison, for guidance on how to bring the idea to life.
“I received an email from Marisa saying, ‘I have this crazy idea to put together a diversity day, can you help me?’ And from there, the concept took off,” Tedrow-Harrison recalled.
With a planning committee of 25 Upper School students and the guidance of Parkerʼs administrative leadership, the group, galvanized by Marisa's enthusiasm, generated thought-provoking programming to fill the day.
Diversity Day debuted as a half-day event in the spring of 2016. It has since grown to be a full-day program and a cornerstone of the Upper School curriculum, thanks in large part to Marisa’s vision to make a difference at Parker.
“Marisa is the type of student whose actions and long-term commitment highlight that she was invested in the creation and success of diversity day for the right reasons,” Tedrow-Harrison said. “This was further demonstrated by the caliber of her work ethic throughout the past two years.”
The theme for Diversity Day this year was, “A Celebration of Identity.” Throughout the day, students were given opportunities to learn and discuss perspectives often different from their own. More than 20 workshops, led by Parker students, faculty, staff and invited guests provided safe places to explore and understand diversity in gender identity, political thought, religious ideology, physical ability and social class.
The program commenced with keynote speaker Alex Myers, an author, teacher and member of the LGBTQ community and the first transgender person to attend Harvard University.
Myers spoke to students about his journey as a transgender person and how society should not limit its understanding of gender to checkboxes labeled “male” or “female” and understand that gender does not define who we are as individuals.
After attending the talk, Upper School student Liam Fay, Class of 2018, said, “I think [Myers] had a positive impact on the students and teachers in attendance.” Liam was encouraged by Myers’ message, which urges students to be themselves and to thoughtfully do their part to break down stereotypes.
“I think people need to stop making assumptions and generalizations about other groups—this is where stereotypes and biases come from,” Liam said. “Without these assumptions, we can regard others by their character, not by their identity.”
Following the keynote address, students participated in classroom discussions on diversity. Liam and Rachel Gordon, Class of 2018— both members of the Upper School club, Gay Straight Alliance—led a workshop called, “Learning the Language of Sexuality.” Through frank discussions, students examined words and phrases such as gender identity, gender expression, homophobia and queer to understand the social impact these words may have on others.
“We wanted to give people the tools they need to have the discussions that break the taboos defining sexuality and gender,” Liam said. “Right now, LGBTQ issues are at the forefront of many political discussions and movements. Parker students who are familiar and comfortable with these issues can have a greater depth of understanding of the world as it stands.”
In the workshop, “Ability & American Disabilities Act,” led by Upper School teacher Eric Taylor, students explored how a person with a disability might experience daily life on campus. The “Islam, American Muslims, and the Challenges of Islamophobia” workshop was led by Upper School student Yasmeen Abu Khalaf, Class of 2017, and Imam Taha Hassan of the Islamic Center. Students were given a chance to ask questions about the Muslim faith as it relates to current events.
“Parker, along with independent schools across the nation, are realizing that work in diversity and inclusion is part of providing our students access to academic excellence,” Tedrow-Harrison said.
Parker is committed to building a School community that is truly global in perspective, diverse in composition and reflective of the world. Parker’s goal is to be a community where all members feel valued, included and respected.
As part of this commitment, in August 2015, Parker’s Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion department, currently led by Tedrow-Harrison, to enhance diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism in every aspect of School life. The Board also established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Board of Trustees to support these initiatives.
“When students leave Parker and head to college or enter the workforce they are going to interact with people from all different backgrounds, sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Tedrow-Harrison. “So diversity and inclusion isn’t just about understanding our differences, itʼs a part of the 21st century cultural competency skills needed to thrive.”
Diversity Day ended with the Parker’s Boys Basketball team playing a game of wheelchair basketball with the San Diego Hammer team from the Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association. San Diego Hammer is a competitive team of athletes with physical disabilities; they compete in a Division III wheelchair basketball league in the Southern California Conference.
Before the Hammer team outscored the Lancers with a 24-10 win, the Hammer players shared with students that despite adversity, they should never lose sight of their dreams. ■This article first appeared in the Parker Magazine Winter/Spring 2017 issue.