Last year, senior Angela Battiata began a new club which she called The IDEA Club. The acronym stands for Identity, Diversity, Equity, and Awareness. It came to Angela after her transformative experience at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), an annual conference to discuss issues of diversity put on by the National Association of Independent Schools. Angela saw IDEA as a way to bring some of the learnings, exercises, and discussions she learned back to Tabor. As it got off to a late start, Angela was concerned about the transition to new leaders, but luckily Riley Suh and Max Mignatti among others, have risen to the challenge of bringing IDEA forward as a powerful student club.
With just two meetings under their belts, Max and Riley feel their committee is making good progress. There are 30-40 members who have gathered so far, utilizing the complementary DeBrief program to augment their skills and discussions. DeBrief runs on opposite weeks as IDEA and is run by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. The faculty presence at DeBrief adds a different dimension to the discussions and has been helpful in teaching the students some basic skills to manage the student-run discussions led by IDEA.
The IDEA Club leadership is trying to tackle some overarching themes and skills. They are utilizing the power of identifiers (age, race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, family structure, ability, religion or sexual orientation) as conversation starters and ways to build common ground and respectful dialogue, cultivating the rich ground of student experiences of being teenagers. “Students were a little reluctant in the past to join us because it was not clear what IDEA was about or who it was for. Many thought it was a club just for students of color or liberal-minded individuals. There was a perceived political agenda,” explained Riley. Max and Riley are consciously trying to change that perception by sticking to common concerns that go beyond race and politics. Max said, “We are trying to educate each other about the different experiences and perceptions people have and invite everyone into the conversation.” Riley is simply hoping to get kids to talk together about what they value and believe “as people, and not as members of an affiliated group.” Max added how powerful it can be to “see how diverse the world is and also how similar our concerns are as teenagers.”
The committee began their meetings by talking about what unites them in their love for their school and also what they don’t like about Tabor. “Almost all the things the students didn’t like were common to teens all around, not just at Tabor. In that way, we were able to see how we were similar and what we might be able to overcome through more honest dialogue,” said Max. Next, the group is taking on “hook up culture” and hopes to open dialogue about how people with different identifiers might feel about entering into their first relationships and what the challenges are. There is a lot to talk about.
Keeping it personal and between students only allows them to be themselves and not have all the answers. It allows honest questioning and demands the leaders use a methodology to keep things respectful as they mediate opposing viewpoints. Riley said, “We learn a lot from our faculty advisor Mr. Nascimento as we see how he mediates the conversations at DeBrief group. As a trainer and faculty mentor at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, Nascimento has learned a lot of tools to help him manage these discussions.”
Riley said she has “learned how to be respectful in times of conflict” from her experiences at DeBrief and IDEA. While Max added that the club represents the “voices of tomorrow.” She said it has “helped us to be prepared for real situations when we have to talk to people who may disagree with us or who might be disrespectful.” Both girls felt the club offered important lessons learned through experience. IDEA is giving its members important experience at discussing different ways of being and thinking and being open to listening to others, whether or not they agree or experience the same things. Max closed by saying, “It is exciting to hear someone share a really different perspective in the group as it means they feel safe enough to share, that they trust us to listen and not oppose or judge them outright.” As more students have this experience, the girls hope that more people will come to the IDEA club meetings and share their views in the spirit of learning from one another.