Coalition of Differences, the student-led initiative that promotes diversity of thought and civil discourse within the RCDS community, facilitated division-wide discussions about the election for Upper School students. Student leader and program founder Eesha Narain '21 teamed up with Director of Diversity and Inclusion Ali Morgan and Director of Public Purpose Rebecca Drago to assign all upper schoolers to small discussion groups no larger than nine participants and to train 31 teachers and employees to serve as facilitators. The facilitator training included practicing dialogue techniques, navigating charged conversations, and supporting students across the board.
Acting as guides and tone setters, the facilitators kicked off the meetings with the Coalition’s community norms, and the discussions that followed were entirely student-driven by design—Eesha had worked with her teachers to carefully develop discussion prompts that are both challenging and age-appropriate. Students covered a range of topics including democracy, the tense election, the electoral college, civil rights, young voter turnout, the role of social media, and the value of debates, healthcare and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the supreme court, among others. The discussions gave students an opportunity to practice the skills of listening and engaging in a respectful and thoughtful exchange of ideas when it comes to topics characterized by debate and disagreement. The Coalition plans to organize another set of division-wide discussion groups after the election.
Eighth graders also had a chance to participate in similar conversations during SEEK. Upper School student leaders joined Ms. Donahue, Ms. Cartwright, and Mr. Morgan to help facilitate the discussions, which were again guided by the Coalition’s norms. The eighth graders had fluid conversations where everyone was encouraged to share, while also being an active listener. Mr. Song, Middle School Principal, was impressed with the conversations and hopes to extend the program to other Middle School grades.
Reflecting on the Coalition’s work, Mr. Morgan shares, “It is important to pause and make time for meaningful engagement during the school day. We are truly grateful to have a student-led program that facilitates thoughtful peer-to-peer engagement and builds on the perspective sharing that happens everyday in the classroom, in the hallways, on the fields, and of course at home. Our theme this year is character, and I can’t think of a better way to further develop and test our character than to practice listening to different perspectives.”
Eesha is proud of her schoolmates for their presence and productive participation in these conversations. “The willingness to enter into discussions, expose our vulnerabilities, and further our understanding of one another requires courage,” she says. “Listening and hearing one another's opinions are essential communication skills. We must create an atmosphere that supports a free exchange of ideas and an acceptance of differences, and I am truly excited to see the process evolve.”
Coalition of Differences is now in its second year. Read about its launch in the fall of 2019.