That's So SA
That's So SA

Attending the POCC

Dot Kowal, Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
This year was my first year attending NAIS’s POCC (People of Color Conference). I’ve worked in independent schools for about a decade, but the conference I’ve always focused on every fall was the NACAC Conference, (National Association of College and Admissions Counselors) which is expressly for college counselors. It always felt indulgent to, just a few weeks later, attend another conference, so I never prioritized POCC, putting my role as a college counselor for students above my own need for connection with other educators of color. This year, as SA’s first/ interim director of DEI, whatever blocks I had about attending in the past were at last outweighed by the fact that it is “part of my job.”Any excuses I had to avoid this conference, subconscious or not, were out the window. Better late than never. POCC will continue to be the four days I look forward to every fall for as long as I am able to attend. 

In my career as an educator, I have always worked at predominantly white institutions. Most independent schools are. POCC stands as a unique gathering of educators of color in these institutions that by and large weren’t built for POC, but are trying to employ them and serve them. It was a virtual conference of course, a technological nightmare or masterpiece (you pick) of zoom meetings, event mobi interfaces, and meetings with up to 50+ break out rooms. The engagement and energy was palpable in the sessions I chose to attend, facilitated by other educators who could share some part of my experience in independent schools. A common theme was the “E(race)sure of the Asian or Multi-racial identity.” Yes! Finally a space where people say things like “I often feel my story/identity is irrelevant” or “I feel like I have to convince others that my experience is not just like a white person’s.” 

In these sessions, even if the attendance was over 200 people, the zoom space was alive. People were nodding and shaking their heads, snapping, smiling, laughing, showing all the signs of support through the means they had-- a laptop. It was everything I love about zoom, instead of all the...other things about zoom that I’m sure we can all commiserate about. 

Despite being in the confines of my youngest child’s room turned office, a profoundly moving moment surprised me when I attended the Asian Affinity Group on day one of the conference. I logged in a minute or two early and watched as the participant number grew and grew. It was an effort of speed and will, but I rapidly scrolled through the 14+ pages that populated with Asian faces, a few of whom I recognized. My chat started blowing up: “I see you Dot!” “What’s up, girl!!” “HEY DOTTTTTT!!” All the while the participant number climbed steadily towards 250. And then it hit me. I was shocked to notice tears rolling down my face. I had never been in a space, virtual or not, with this many Asian people in my life. I thought back to elementary school when I took a family trip to Korea. But this time was different, because all of these faces, they were actively choosing to be with me in this space for the purpose of affinity. I chatted my friend and told her I was crying and that I couldn’t believe myself. She chatted back: “me too.” 

There is so much about being an Asian American woman in the context of my life that I don’t pay attention to, or that I take for granted, because it’s my life and I’m in it every day. When I drill down, my identity is quite specific: Asian American cisgender woman, a biological mother of two biracial children, and married to a white identifying cisgender man. What does it mean to raise my family and continue evolving as an individual, in Petaluma, California, a town that I have chosen, knowing that I will rarely bump into another Asian identifying person? Inside POCC these conversations and questions are the norm. The next day, I selected a micro-affinity space specifically for Asian educators who are raising biracial children. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was. Again. There were over 20 of us in that room. A conference of thousands became a small room of individuals with a very specific life experience that finally felt common. As an Asian American, it’s hard to know how much I can claim POC-ness in a world that continues to push us towards assimilation and ultimately erasure. These groups validate that I am not indeed, “practically white.” My experiences are real and shared. 

POCC is educational. It’s inspirational. And it’s imperative that your colleagues, teachers, and childrens’ teachers who are in a striking minority on a daily basis, have four days where they can be seen and heard, be inspired to ask for more, and look around the room and actually see the reality that they are part of the global majority. 

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