Parish Episcopal students, faculty and staff took the time to appreciate other voices and views during the second annual Diversity Conference on January 25. The event is part of Parish’s active Diversity and Inclusion program and includes a wide array of topics and speakers for Upper School students. The goal of the conference is to get participants to appreciate and recognize the diversity of perspectives within the Parish community and the world around them. The conference also included a special Legacy event featuring Jazz band Hot Horns, and the all-school community event Global Blast, which is a celebration of food, music and fun to recognize Parish’s diverse cultures. (See Global Blast & Legacy)
Special guest speakers, including parents, faculty, staff and Parish alumni, covered an array of topics during the 45 minute sessions. Topics included community, cultural and social issues.
“The Upper School Diversity Conference is a break away from the normal 'academic” school day,' said Tyneeta Canonge, Director of Inclusion & Diversity at Parish. “It provides our students an opportunity to learn about social issues . . . information to shape a critical lens through which to see themselves and the world. It also empowers them with knowledge and inspiration to be world changers.
Kimberlee Williams, Parish Upper School Faculty, presented “Miss Representation,” a talk on how media plays a role in gender stereotypes and how young girls and women view themselves. The talk raised awareness of these gender biases and inspired girls to place value on the whole person and not solely on youth, beauty and sexuality.
“I thought it was really impactful,” noted Brittany Burnecke ’17. “I didn’t quite know what to expect going into it.”
“I like to think I’m giving us [women] the benefit of the doubt and support other women in whatever endeavor they want to go after, but I don’t think I knew how innately biased I was even though I don’t want to be,” she added. “I thought that was really interesting.”
On the flip side, boys and young men often struggle to express their emotions in a society that ties their success to dominance, power and aggression. “The Mask You Live In” session covered this topic and was presented by Courtney Joyner, Parish webmaster, and Daniel Novakov, head football coach. Joyner shared his story of being in conventional and unconventional roles: high school football player, building Bonfire at Texas A&M, the corporate world as a senior IT specialist with IBM, and then stay at home dad and back to the professional world.
“He’s very open about sharing that and not afraid of anything so I thought that was awesome,” said Joe Johnston ’17.
“It’s encourages [me] to be open about sharing things and not worry about if other people think it’s 'manly' enough,” he added.
The keynote speaker in chapel was Sarah Culberson, co-founder and president of the Kposowa Foundation in Los Angeles. Culberson shared her journey of adoption, contemplating her bi-racial roots, acting, overachieving and discovering she was a princess and part of the royal family in Bumpe, a chiefdom in Sierra Leone. She co-authored a book about her experience titled A Princess Found. Culberson says she would have never met her biological father and discovered her purpose to help her family’s village if she hadn’t stepped into fear and been willing to feel uncomfortable. She encouraged Parish students to “lean into the discomfort, take risks and go after their dreams.”
“We don’t always know what we want to do . . . but if we look inward and say: What am I really passionate about and what do I love doing, there’s a way to connect that,” said Culberson.
As part of Parish tenets of Wisdom, Honor and Service, students are challenged to explore their passions in life and see how they can use their talents and interests to help others. Culberson told students to be patient and to “trust the process and stepping stones” to discovering their purpose in life. Although she is passionate about her work with the Kposowa Foundation, Culberson says it isn’t always easy. If she had to describe it one word or put it in a hashtag it would simply be #responsibility.
“We all wear many hats,” noted Culberson. “I feel like it is finding the most important things in our lives and really focusing on those and then finding the balance within everything.”
Practicing the patience to follow one’s passion doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task advices Culberson, it can be as simple as “showing up” and “being present” for your community or cause. Another important step to getting started is to ask for help.
“When I’m operating as an individual nothing works,” noted Culberson. “When I create a team or ask for support, that’s when things grow.”
“Going on to college and bursting out of this bubble can be scary to all of us,” said Carlye Zeringue ’17. “I think her advice and experience can really be helpful in the future.”
Learn more about Sarah Culberson and her work in Bumpe.