The Horace Mann Record – RIISE Town Hall 2012


The Horace Mann Record News, Friday, December 14, 2012    

Panelists Address Socioeconomic Diversity at RIISE Meeting

Teo Armus-Laski
Staff Writer

Panelists from three independent schools discussed the social implications of financial aid and minority students at their institutions at a town hall meeting on Wednesday.

“There’s no easy answer when it comes to addressing issues of socioeconomic diversity in independent schools,” Director of Admissions Jason Caldwell ‘97 said. “You can try to ‘balance the playing field,’ but you can’t legislate what happens in a social environment off- campus.”

Featuring Caldwell, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, Riverdale sixth-grader Elon Collins, and Dalton parent Michèle Stephenson, the panel focused on addressing an October 19th New York Times article, “Admitted, but Left Out,” event organizer Gina Parker Collins said.

The article describes current and former students of color at various independent schools and their struggles in adjusting to a school environment racially and socially different from what they were used to.

“While we absolutely did need to validate the stories within the article, it didn’t provide a balanced account and lacked positive experiences,”Parker Collins said. Additionally, Parker Collins was concerned that prospective families might reconsider their decision to apply to independent schools.

16% of all attendees felt that the Times article accurately portrayed the experiences of most students of color, while 99% said that they would still have chosen an independent school if given the opportunity today, according to a poll of event registrants.

Responding to questions posed online and by audience members, the panelists discussed different measures schools and families can take to bridge the gap between families of color and independent schools, such as opening up conversations about socioeconomic diversity to all members of the school.

“We need to be willing to have a community-wide conversation about where kids can feel left out because of a difference in resources, and give them the tools to negotiate this process,” Kelly said during the meeting. “Unless someone brings it to our attention, it’s easily missed and that’s when the hurt and the pain can take place.”

Kelly and Caldwell pointed to ways the school seeks to make students from

diverse backgrounds feel welcome in all activities such as the Student Assistance Fund, Dorr trips, service- learning initiatives, and participation in the Diversity Awareness Initiative for Students (DAIS).

During the meeting, Caldwell spoke about his experience dealing with the issue as both an administrator and a student. Caldwell noted that seventh and eleventh grades as particular “pressure points” when students become increasingly aware of financial differences through large parties and the presence of cars, trips, and standardized test tutors, respectively, he said. “I don’t think kids make social decisions based on money, but the more money you have, the more access it gives you to certain activities,” Caldwell said.

Collins described an experience in third grade when a fellow classmate, intending to give her a compliment, told her she forgot Collins was African-American. “I don’t want to have to lose my identity just because I’m different than the majority of the school,” Collins said.

“There are issues of perception – no matter how many people like you are in the room or in the school – that students will have to deal with, and that’s a reality of society,”

Emma Maltby/Staff Photographer

Panelists answer questions about experiences in independent school communities.


Stephenson said. After the discussion, the audience watched a preview for “American Promise,” a film Stephenson created with her husband about the thirteen-year journey of their son and his friend at Dalton as African-American males.

The discussion was sponsored by Resources in Independent School Education (RIISE), a private consultancy group founded by Parker Collins that seeks to “bridge

the gap between families of color and independent schools in issues of recruitment and retention,” Parker Collins said.

Looking toward the future, both panelists and participants hope that members from across the spectrum of the school community – not just those interested in diversity issues – can participate in discussions on socioeconomic diversity, organizers said.

…Great article, thank you, Teo.

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