By Zara Jacob (V)
Each year, The Far Brook School hosts the Widening the Lens Conference, a space for independent schools in New Jersey to come together and discuss diversity and inclusion. Each school is expected to send one or two representatives from different constituencies of the school, including administrators, trustees, parents, students, diversity and inclusion practitioners, faculty, and alumni.
This year the conference was titled “Class in the Classroom: Exploring Socioeconomic Diversity in Our Schools,” with keynote speaker Anthony Jack, a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and assistant professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The conference started with a speech by Dr. Jack, author of Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students, who discussed how, despite the fact that many elite colleges and private schools are making an effort to provide access to students with varying socioeconomic statuses, there is little to no action to cultivate a sense of inclusion. “Access and Inclusion,” he repeats; that is what elite colleges and independent high schools must aspire to reach in regards to the maintenance of socioeconomic diversity.
The second part of the conference saw the group split into “pods”: students met with students, teachers met with teachers, and so on. In the discussion among students, topics ranged from stories of being bullied for relying on financial aid, to the impending burden of college tuition, to not being able to afford class symbols like Airpods or a Canada Goose jacket. However, one student from an all-boys school in Jersey City opted out of speaking on the panel, saying that he did not have anything to talk about: “My school actually does a pretty good job.” He went on to talk about the incorporation of legitimate diversity-building implementations at this school, and how it fostered an environment for socioeconomic diversity to be candidly discussed and subsequently addressed. The student panel was arguably the prevailing aspect of the conference, as Mr. Levinson notes “I think it made an impact on everybody, but in particular the adults at Pingry; it got everyone thinking. Those personal stories are what people remember. When you hear actual voices of students, you think about what we can do or continue to do to improve the student experience, while also considering all the different layers involved.”
The conference concluded with each pod of students, faculty, and administrators coming together to talk about takeaways from the conference and how this discussion could be brought back to their respective schools. Pingry’s pod included Mrs. Ostrowsky, Ms. López, Mr. Levinson, myself, and other board members, alumni, faculty, and parents. The primary focus of the meeting was to brainstorm a tangible, realistic plan to engage discussions about socioeconomic diversity and possible solutions to further facilitate the aspect of “inclusion” at Pingry.
For tuition-based schools like Pingry, socioeconomic diversity can be a tricky subject. No one wants to talk about money, which in and of itself is a luxury and an indication of how we deal with socioeconomic diversity at independent schools. Pingry’s attendance at the Widening the Lens Conference was undoubtedly a necessary and powerful stepping stone for the cultivation of a community that is aware and active in regards to socioeconomic diversity. But this should not be all that is done. If you, or anyone you know, wants to help create a plan that enables the growth of socioeconomic diversity at Pingry, please talk to Mrs. Ostrowsky, Ms. Lopez, or myself. It is our responsibility to do more than just talk about socioeconomic diversity; action is pressing and necessary.