Difficult conversations are just that: Difficult. Rivers is committed to engaging our community in difficult, courageous conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion—and to providing tools to facilitate those conversations. Toward that end, last Wednesday, February 20, saw the launch of Rivers’s Parent Diversity Speaker Series, sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
Some 80 audience members, including about 60 parents, gathered to hear Dr. Liza Talusan address how to engage our children in courageous conversations. Talusan’s extensive experience spans the past 22 years; she has worked with more than 85 schools and organizations to navigate the complex yet integral work of making institutions more equitable and inclusive for all.
John Bower, director of diversity & inclusion, opened the meeting with an update about the recent work that Rivers has done around diversity, equity, and inclusion, including sharing the recently updated DEI mission statement. Parents in the audience nodded their heads as Bower read the statement, which calls upon the community to embrace the hard work of equity and inclusion.
“As you can tell,” said Bower, “we have put in place more of a call to action for our students, faculty, and wider Rivers community to not only push for a more diverse and inclusive community, which will always be a priority, but also to recognize and actively address the fact that the world is complex, and that for us to adequately prepare students for that world, it is our responsibility to not turn away from but to run full speed into some of the more difficult conversations around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
He continued, “Most of our diversity work, as you may expect, is currently being done with students and faculty. With this mission now in place, we feel strongly as a school that the work needs to also involve families. … This evening is the first of many opportunities we have planned with the ultimate goal of ensuring that you, as parents, feel supported and empowered when your children come home and share with you what they are engaging with every day.”
With that, he turned the floor over to Talusan. She began with a reminder that we each have a very different set of lenses with respect to how our parents dealt with difficult conversations when we were growing up, and she encouraged us to take on a different perspective at this point in our lives and in our world. The overarching questions she considered were:
How do we, as adults, navigate difficult conversations with children and students?
What are the challenges and opportunities in having conversations with young people?
Talusan shared the four rules of engaging in courageous conversation, as delineated in the work of Dr. Glenn Singleton:
Experience some discomfort
Speak truth and hear truth
Expect and accept non-closure
Talusan then facilitated paired conversations for all in attendance, focusing on a variety of questions relating to topics that can be challenging for parents to engage in with their children. A PDF of Talusan's presentation can be found here.
The response from parents in the audience was enthusiastic. “I was so happy to be in a room packed with Rivers parents who wanted to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Mary Ross, mother of Sam Lyons ’22. “Dr. Talusan gave us tools to navigate these issues with our children, with the goals of finding greater connection and a stronger ability to keep the lines of communication open with our kids. I attended the workshop because I want my own child to understand that he inhabits an incredibly diverse world and that we are all better off when we understand and celebrate difference. I’m very grateful that Rivers is approaching this work thoughtfully, and I am looking forward to what comes next.”