School Blog

Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Westminster School

Lisa McGrath, Director of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs

People do their best work when they bring and share their most authentic selves in their community. With that in mind, Westminster’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs offers opportunities for students and faculty not only to contribute their ideas and stories but also to inspire and learn from those different from them. Together with students and faculty, I coordinate spaces in my role as the director of diversity and multicultural affairs so that groups can explore identity, equity and inclusion. In doing so, students share their experiences and ideas, develop friendships and build community. Furthermore, these groups encourage curiosity and promote courageous conversations.
 
The Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs houses both alliance and affinity groups, which are led by students and faculty advisors. The alliance groups offer spaces where students and faculty, however they self identify, gather and discuss a specific topic and interest. These groups also organize educational activities and support campaigns that advance movements for equality.
 
The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), for instance, is open to all students and faculty who identify as straight allies and as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Student-led by Chris Turino ‘20, AJ Paladino ‘21 and Nathalie Charles ’21, with faculty co-advisors Colleen Joncas, Bill Sistare and me, GSA organized a trip to Hartford’s PrideFest this past September. Additionally, when the town of Simsbury installed a permanent rainbow artwork to help celebrate Oct. 11th’s National Coming Out Day, the community event was Westminster-strong. Members of GSA made their historical mark by helping create the inclusive canvas, a moment that was featured on local news channels and publications.

All As One: Feminist Alliance (AAOFA), student-led by Vernita Zhai ’20 and Olivia Zhang ‘20, with faculty advisor Jess Keough, is another alliance group open to all who are interested in advocating for the equality of the sexes and genders. In honor of National Period Day on Oct. 19, AAOFA organized a weeklong women’s health drive. As a result, AAOFA raised awareness that, though it may be hard to imagine, access to basic feminine hygiene products and services is far from universal. AAOFA highlighted how for many women around the world, period poverty is a major barrier to full participation in education, work and public life. Also, their drive successfully collected four large boxes full of feminine products, which all went to a local women’s shelter.



We have four additional alliance groups: the Multicultural Student Union led by Kyani Jemmotte ‘20, Shaunna Walsh ’20 and Nathalie Charles ’21; Conversations About Christianity led by Annie Brewer ‘21, Abby Davis ’20 and Bethany Winters ’20; Westminster Latinx Alliance led by Juan Jo Garibay  ’20 and Elena McGuigan ’21; and Jewnion led by Malcolm Kleban ‘20, Harrison Lehman ’21 and Justin Parsons ’20.

Our affinity groups follow the model set by the National Association of Independent Schools. They invite members who have a specific identifier in common and can speak from the same “I” perspective. They are designed to affirm the group that is gathering. What makes these spaces so special is that they invite students to explore their own identity, celebrate that shared identity, and debrief the challenges that members of their identity group face. The vision for affinity group work, like the NAIS model, is threefold: first, facilitate opportunities for nurturing and celebrating lived experiences; second, discuss issues related to identity development in an environment where participants have a shared identity; and third, generate community, fellowship and empowerment so that affinity group members can develop strategies toward comfort and inclusion within the greater community.
 
The overarching goal of these affinity groups is that students share their experiences with others who identify similarly so that they may eventually develop the ease and courage to share with others who do not share their identity. Take, for example, the Hispanic Or Latinx Affinity (HOLA), led by Simonne Ponce ’21 and Isabel Sanchez ’20, with the support of faculty advisor Sandy Palala. For the past four years, HOLA, along with the Westminster Latinx Alliance, shared their family histories, individual backgrounds and musical talents with the whole school during a chapel event commemorating National Hispanic Heritage Month. This was a direct result of HOLA’s dedicated camaraderie and group work from years past.
 
The oldest of our affinity groups, The Gathering, is for students and faculty who identify as male and as African-American, African or Black. Led by Roman Mitchell ’20, with faculty co-advisors Lee Huguley, David Pringle, A-men Rasheed and Greg Williams, The Gathering plays a crucial part in supporting our young African-American, African and Black men on campus. Similarly, the Ladies of Color, led by Daniela Mays-Sanchez ’20 and Elena McGuigan ’21, with faculty co-advisors Claudia McGuigan and me, is open to those who identify as young women of color. Our four additional affinity groups are the Black Affinity Group led by Alex Ellis ‘20, Kyani Jemmotte ’20 and Tunji Osho-Williams ‘21; Asian/ Pacific Islander Affinity led by Michelle Kim ’20 and Olivia Zhang ’20; LGBTQ+ Affinity Group led by Nathalie Charles ‘21 and AJ Paladino ’21; and the International Student Organization.



In addition to the work of all these student groups, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs arranges programs for the entire school. Every January, for example, Westminster School hosts Diversity Day, a full day set aside for the entire school to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion together as a community. It involves a keynote speaker, as well as activities led by peer facilitators, faculty presenters and advisors. Last year, for instance, the school focused on cross-cultural communication. With our keynote speaker Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee, who is both a longtime independent school educator and diversity trainer, our students and faculty learned about unconscious and implicit bias together.

Most recently, nine of us went to Seattle and attended the annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) and Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools. The SDLC is an inclusive, multiracial, multicultural gathering of 1,600 high school student leaders from across the U.S. and abroad. Together with trained adult facilitators, students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. The students who applied and were selected to represent Westminster at this year's SDLC were Nathalie Charles '21, Kyani Jemmotte '20, Sam Obeng '22, Tunji Osho-Williams '21, Ariel Seidu '22,  and Bethany Winters '20. The faculty participants who attended PoCC and chaperoned this trip were David Chrzanowski, A-men Rasheed and me.

It is an honor supporting all our students and faculty as Westminster’s director of diversity and multicultural affairs. Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me: lmcgrath@westminster-school.org.

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