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Student Leadership Essential to New DEI Conference for Boarding Schools

When Perkiomen School’s Diversity Collaborative Coordinator, Trevor Smith, first began the process of launching a pioneer academic conference on diversity and inclusion at boarding schools, he knew that the event had to involve students. After all, students have always played such an essential role in the work the Collaborative has done. It was students who helped co-found the Mid-Atlantic Regional Diversity Conference back in 2012. It is students who lead workshops during Perkiomen’s Social Justice Week, run the Cultural Festival, and plan campus events like Lunar New Year Dinner and Black History Month activities. 

“Student involvement and leadership have always been essential to every aspect of the Perkiomen experience, and equity and inclusion work is no different,” says Smith, who also teaches in Perkiomen’s history department. 


Screenshot of Boarding School Conference Registration


It was only natural, then, for students to be a part of the inaugural Diversity & Inclusion in Boarding Schools (DIBS) Conference. The innovative event, scheduled for Saturday, March 27, 2021 is designed to focus on the unique challenges boarding schools face when it comes to diversity, inclusion and justice. While there are a number of established conferences on diversity and inclusion at independent schools in general, DIBS is distinct in its attention to boarding schools specifically. 

The program will begin with a keynote address from Rosetta Lee, a renowned diversity speaker and educator from Seattle Girls' School, before the more than 130 registered participants disperse to attend the various breakout sessions and workshops. Following the sessions, participants will hear from the closing speaker, Shannon P. Marquez, Ph.D., the Dean of Global Engagement at Columbia University.

The leaders of the sessions will include 13 current Perkiomen students, four alumni, and six staff members.  


Perkiomen Student Workshop Leaders

Among the current students who will be leading workshops are Ella Laski ’23, Naomi Grossman ’23, and Sherry Hsieh ’24. While all three are still in the early stages of high school, each has already demonstrated their cognizance of the inequalities and injustices that exist within society and the drive to want to make change.

Ella Laski '23

Laski, a 15-year-old sophomore in her first year at Perkiomen, was attracted to the school’s commitment to equity and inclusion when she first got to campus. In October, Laski presented on mental health and the media at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Diversity Conference (MARD). A few months later, she participated in the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), where she listened to speakers from around the world discuss topics such as systemic racism, allyship, and sexuality. 

“I really enjoyed it,” says Laski. “I love public speaking so when I heard that Mr. Smith was starting his own conference, I was very interested and glad to help.” 

At DIBS, the Center Valley, Pa. resident, who aspires to work in medicine or math when she is older, will be leading a workshop titled, Women in STEM: Solving the Inequality. The presentation will look at the ways in which females are treated unfairly, and often discouraged, from taking part in STEM fields professionally. 

“I’ve heard firsthand, ‘Oh you can’t do this, you want to be home with your kids when you’re older, you don’t want to have that lifestyle,’” says Laski. “So I just feel very passionately that young girls and young women should not be discouraged from their interests because of a stigma surrounding it.” 

Laski is looking forward to the opportunity to be a student leader at DIBS and hopes that her workshop will give those listening something to think about and take with them moving forward. 


Sherry Hsieh '24

Hsieh, too, is eager for the chance to share her own presentation which she titled, The Impact of American-Focused Curriculum on International Students. Now a freshman, Hsieh first came to Perkiomen from Taiwan as a sixth grader and joined the Diversity Collaborative in eighth grade. Like Laski, Hsieh was also a part of both MARD and SDLC. The interactions Hsieh had with fellow international students at these conferences are what inspired her to choose her topic for DIBS. 

Among the issues the 14-year-old hopes to discuss are the impact of English as a Second Language programming on a student’s scheduling, as well as the extra testing required by international students during the college admissions process. 

To begin her workshop, Hsieh plans to present some research to ground the conversation, but she hopes for plenty of back and forth exchange between those in attendance. 

“I think it is going to be a more personal experience,” Hsieh says. “I hope it will be more of a discussion-based workshop where people really throw in their own opinions.” 



Naomi Grossman '23

While Laski and Hsieh each have prior experience in the realm of academic conferences, DIBS will be Grossman’s first venture into the domain. 

Throughout her life, the 16-year-old sophomore has been committed to the fight against antisemitism. She has been staunch in her efforts to bring awareness to the matter and push back against the hate faced by the Jewish community. So when classmate Jacob Solomon ’21 asked her to team up to present on the topic at DIBS, Grossman was happy to accept. 

“It’s something that I really care about,” says Grossman, from Pennsburg, Pa. “I notice a lot of the time antisemitism really goes unnoticed. Everybody thinks it ended with the Holocaust but that’s not true at all.” 

Grossman and Solomon’s workshop is titled, Antisemitism: Then and Now and will spotlight many of the stereotypes faced by the Jewish population. The pair plans to examine the origins of these stereotypes, as well as how they are still prevalent today. 

Grossman envisions the session as being valuable for everyone in attendance, both those who are Jewish and those who are not. The goal is for the workshop to serve as a space for those within the Jewish community to talk about shared experiences and hardships, while also providing a learning opportunity for those who are less informed to better comprehend the magnitude and reality of the problem.

Additional Workshops

In addition to the topics chosen by Laski, Hsieh and Grossman, other student presentation subjects include: Diversity in Disney, Mental Health and Addiction in Sports, We Been Knew: Hip Hop Culture and the Recognition of Police Violence, and Hear My Voice: the Lost Stories of Indigenous Women. Some other presenters like Naomi Knight '21, pictured below, also shared these topics with students, faculty and staff during lunchtime virtual workshops held this past fall.  A full list of topics for March 27, both for students and faculty, can be found at the DIBS webpage.  



Certainly, DIBS represents an excellent occasion for boarding school faculty and administrators to learn, connect and work improve their institutions. Yet, in the end, it’s the participation of students like Laski, Hsieh, Grossman, Solomon, and Knight that really excites the conference’s founder.  

“I can't imagine doing anything like DIBS without the students’ passion, support and insight,” says Smith. “As an educator, they are why I'm here, but they are also what makes all of this possible.” 


With more than 130 students and faculty participating, DIBS registration has been a success. Perkiomen School is proud to share this bright start to what many hope is an annual event for boarding schools throughout the country. 


Few other conferences focus on the specific challenges faced by boarding schools, and fewer still provide experiences for both students and faculty. The goal of the conference is to provide a forum for boarding schools to help support each other as we navigate these challenges and develop more just and inclusive communities... I can't imagine doing anything like DIBS without the students' passion, support, and insight. - Trevor Smith, Founder, DIBS Conference



Global Community at Perkiomen School    DIBS Conference

By Greg Welsh, Marketing & Communications Assistant

Greg Welsh is a 2020 graduate of Villanova University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. He has a background in journalism and is excited to be assisting Perkiomen School by working with the Office of Marketing & Communications.