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Neurodiversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Neurodiversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Jillian DeBusk, Upper School Learning Specialist

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On January 22, students in grades 5-12, faculty, and staff gathered to participate in Dana Hall’s Day of Community Learning. The presentations and workshops were all organized around the common theme of making connections between the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and envisioning solutions to the ongoing social injustices that exist today. Bending the Arc: Examining Injustices and Seeking Solutions was the theme this year, and throughout the day, our community engaged in lively and thoughtful conversations focused on educating, reflecting, sharing, and discovering productive ways to create a more just and equitable society.

When our students discuss diversity, they often are quickly able to name race, gender-identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic background as facets of identity that make each individual unique and enrich our community. As part of this year’s Day of Community Learning, the Dana Hall learning specialists, myself along with my colleagues Lucy Hampton and Kim Stewart, were excited to offer a workshop that educated students about neurodiversity. We highlighted the fact that neurodiversity is yet another part of the conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Entitled “The Power of Different: Strengths and Challenges of Diverse Learners,” this session introduced students to the idea that individuals who learn in different ways may face challenges in school but also contribute their intelligence and many strengths to our community, including original perspectives, creativity, and persistence.

We began by encouraging participants to write down words they associated with various phrases, including “Founder of a billion-dollar company, ” “has Dyslexia,” “Olympic Gold Medalist,” and “has Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder.” After discussing the stereotypes associated with these labels, we displayed pictures of individuals including Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airlines who is dyslexic, and Simone Biles, an Olympic Gold Medalist with ADHD. We wanted participants to understand that people with learning disabilities have many strengths and talents.

Building on this idea, we transitioned to a powerful student panel discussion. Student volunteers in grades 7-12 discussed their experiences with having a learning disability. The panelists offered insights that centered around themes of learning to use the resources at Dana Hall, knowing their strengths, advocating for themselves, and being proud of who they are. Both students and adults were enthusiastic participants and eagerly asked questions that demonstrated a desire to think in new ways about diversity. Participants also came to understand the importance of empathy for all kinds of difference, including differences that are sometimes invisible.

This workshop showcases an important element of a Dana Hall education, which is to teach all of our students to be empathetic and to value the perspective of others, no matter where they come from, who they are, or how they learn. During their time at Dana Hall, students come to understand that diversity strengthens our community. Diverse ways of thinking, perceiving, and learning bring richness to the conversation and enhance the academic experience for all.