Personal Perspective: Diversity & Inclusivity
Posted 02/10/2017 01:12PM


by Dalal Juma, Ed.D., Forsyth School Learning Specialist

Editor’s Note: Forsyth's Learning Specialist Dr. Dalal Juma led one of 9 affinity groups at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) this year. NAIS schools are among the finest day and boarding schools in the world. To put this in perspective, there are 1,800+ NAIS schools in the U.S. and worldwide, and 5,000 people attend the conference. While Dr. Juma “was humbled” to be asked to lead an affinity group, this leadership role is a huge honor. With great pride, we share her story with you.



Each year the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), of which Forsyth is a member school, hosts an annual People of Color Conference (PoCC). At over 5,000 attendees, this is among the most popular gatherings of our national association of 1,800 independent schools. I have been fortunate to attend this conference for the past two years. My first experience was incredibly impactful. To be surrounded by influential educators who share similar values of diversity and inclusivity was truly inspiring. This is where I participated in an affinity group for the first time.

Invitation to Lead One of 9 Affinity Groups. After attending the 2015/16 PoCC, I was humbled to receive an invitation from Caroline Blackwell’s team to facilitate the Greater Middle Eastern Region Affinity Group at this year’s conference. [Note: Ms. Blackwell is NAIS Vice President of Equity and Justice.]

There were 9 affinity groups at the 2016/17 conference: Asian Heritage, Black Heritage, First Nations Heritage, Greater Middle Eastern Heritage, International, Latino/a/x/ Heritage, Multiracial Heritage, Transracially Adopted, and White. 


What is an Affinity Group? Affinity group sessions are designed to help individuals participating in the conference engage in conversations within a space defined and protected by and for those who identify as having a shared race or ethnicity.

One of the main differences between PoCC affinity group work and other aspects of the conference is that success is dependent on an agreement by all to respect group membership and self-identification. Affinity group spaces derive their meaning, integrity, and transformative power from participation by same-group members.

Affinity Group Leader Training. Over the course of several months, NAIS led five 3-hour live video conference training sessions for the affinity group leaders. We arrived in Atlanta a day early to attend an all-day training session. During each of these sessions, we reviewed the questions that would be presented and prepared to facilitate difficult discussions.  Examples of some of those questions include:

>> “Where am I, individually, and where are we, collectively, in our personal and collective work in advancing human and civil rights: fulfilling the dream together?”

>> “What is possible for the future, taking into account the best and most hopeful signs in the past and in the present?”

>> “Where do we go from here, to further the work of advancing human and civil rights - fulfilling the dream together?” 

Affinity Group Agreements & Conditions. Within our affinity groups, there was much discussion around brave conversations, also known as courageous conversations. Courageous conversations focus on four agreements and conditions. 

1. Stay Engaged
2. Speak Your Truth
3. Experience Discomfort
4. Expect/Accept Non-Closure 

The Conditions:
>> ENGAGE through your own PERSONAL racial experiences, beliefs and perspectives while demonstrating respectful understanding of specific historical as well as contemporary, local and immediate racial contexts.

>> SUSTAIN yourself and others in the conversation through mindful inquiry into those MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES, beliefs and experiences that are different than your own.

>> DEEPEN your understanding of race and interrogate your beliefs about your own association with and relationship to racial privilege and power. 

Reflecting on the preparation to facilitate these conversations, I am grateful for the opportunity and hope that we can continue to utilize these strategies within our School community. 



My interest in this work stems, in part, from my own experiences growing up. In January 1975, my parents emigrated from Jordan with four small children to Wilmington, North Carolina. Like so many others, they were seeking the American dream – the freedom and opportunity for prosperity and success not available to them in the Middle East. My parents both worked full-time while tending to my siblings. 9 years later I was born, and we moved to St. Louis shortly after. I proudly identify as a first generation Arab-American Muslim.

I have been fortunate to work in organizations that welcome diverse individuals and create inclusive, safe, environments. I have also had the privilege of serving on various cultural competency and diversity committees. The efforts made by our Diversity & Inclusivity Committee since I’ve been at Forsyth, exemplify the School’s commitment to embracing differences and welcoming them into our family. I look forward to our continued diversity and inclusivity work within the Forsyth community.

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