Exploring Ability at Diversity Forum 2019

On April 17, the NCS community hosted its annual Diversity Forum, the culmination of year-long classroom conversations around the theme of Ability, including learning, emotional, mental, and physical. Each year, students vote on a Diversity Forum theme that the school will then explore in-depth; previous themes have included the American Dream, Media Matters, and Allyship.

The day began with students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Cathedral for an opening ceremony, led by student government’s Equity Board and featuring a performance by the inclusive dance troupe Infinite Flow.

The centerpiece of the ceremony was a panel discussion, moderated by Peniel Ouabo ’21, among dancers Marisa Hamamoto and Mia Schaikewitz, author Amy Julia Becker, and Luby Ismail, president of Connecting Cultures. The speakers addressed a range of topics, including how ability affected their self-image and how well-intentioned people can cause harm by implying that disabilities can be “fixed” through medical treatments. “I am who I am. All of us are more than our abilities,” said Ismail.

Following the opening ceremony, each of NCS’s three divisions held workshops and activities. Upper School and Middle School groups examined when ability-related legislation and events happened, such as the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and when the American Psychiatric Association dropped the term “hysteria.” For many, it was eye-opening to discover how recent some of the changes had been made. Students also watched excerpts from a documentary, FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, and shared reflections with classmates.

Faculty-led Upper School workshops included an examination of how the Bible addresses disability and a design challenge to make household appliances more accessible.

Middle Schoolers heard from a local student with autism who presented on neurodiversity with her high school teacher. And in the afternoon, Middle and Lower Schoolers visited a special photo exhibition in Gray Library titled “The Road to Freedom: Portraits of People with Disabilities.” NCS community members submitted their own photos and stories to accompany the professional exhibit. After taking in the photographs, students wrote poems, songs, written pieces, and reflections about what they saw.

Author Becker spoke to the Lower School about looking at disability in terms of gifts and needs, rather than solely the latter, and Special Olympics representatives presented on their unified sports program, which pairs students with and without disabilities to compete in team sports.

Faculty and staff had their own workshop: A guest speaker led an interactive demonstration of how a learning disability can affect the classroom experience.

At the end of the day, Middle and Upper School facilitators coached Lower Schoolers through several real-life scenarios to help process the day’s lessons. Meanwhile, the rest of the students gathered in Schifter Court for a talent show. Infinite Flow led the audience in a sign-language song, and students read original poems and stories, sang songs, and played instruments that reflected their experience with the year’s theme.

Diversity Forum is organized each year by Director of Diversity and Multicultural Education Rachael Flores, the Faculty Diversity Committee, and the student Equity Board. It works toward several goals of the 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, including teaching students to live in a dynamic world, enriching the student experience, and advancing an inclusive learning environment.

To see more photos from this year’s Diversity Forum, visit the Media Gallery.
    • Mia Schaikewitz and Marisa Hamamoto dance at the Opening Ceremony.

    • Allison Pierce ’21 and Lydia Danas ’20 lead classmates in a workshop.

    • Students explain how they would re-engineer a car radio to be more accessible.

    • Lower Schoolers study photos and stories from “The Road to Freedom: Portraits of People with Disabilities.”

    • Charlie Cooper ’20 reads a story at the Diversity Forum talent show.

    • Faculty, staff, and student organizers of this year’s forum.