Administrators of Color Conference Enters Third Year

The ACIS Administrators of Color Conference Goes Online


Nick Saracino

Virtual Administrators of Color Conference. Photo courtesy of Nick Saracino.

By Arjun Kalra, Francis W. Parker Junior/High School

In the past, the Administrators of Color Conference has been held at Parker. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference has moved online. 

Administrators of Color make up around eight percent of administrators in independent schools, according to the National Association of Independent Schools, something hosted by former Associate Principal Ruth Jurgenson and Head of the Upper School Justin Brandon. 

“A little over three years ago now, Ms. Jurgenson and I had a conversation about conferences in our professional development,” Brandon said. “Both of us had attended conferences where amongst a thousand administrators you’d see very few of color, so we wanted to create a space where administrators of color could come together.” 

The conference was first held at Parker in 2018, had around 70 attendees, and lasted a day and a half. On the first day, the keynote speaker Dr. Ibram Kendi opened the conference, and there were two workshops on the second day, each led by different speakers. The following year, the conference grew to about 90 people from 23 states and the Virgin Islands. 

While the structure of the conference remained largely the same from the first year to the second, Brandon had to rework the conference to allow it to work in an online format. 

“We had to truncate it to a one day format from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Brandon said. “We kept the one keynote speaker and the two workshop leaders as well as a lunch conversation in between. We wanted it to be less of a time commitment in light of all the other things administrators are dealing with right now.” 

The conference took place on October 23 and far exceeded its expected attendance with 140 administrators from twenty-two states and the Virgin Islands in attendance. 

“The great thing about it being virtual was it was convenient,” Director of Admissions at the International School of Brooklyn Torsie Judkins said. “I have a long commute on a commuter train, then a subway, and I was able to stay on the Zoom the whole time which was nice.”  

In the past, the in-person conference has prohibited many from coming due to conflicts or the cost of coming to Chicago. 

“One thing that was great about Zoom is people could come who couldn’t because travel was too expensive, or because they can’t miss a meeting,” Music Department Chair Kingsley Tang said. “I don’t know how many people are restricted by that, but there are merits to doing conferences like these online.” 

When the conference was created, one of the goals was for people in similar positions to meet one another, something that is harder over Zoom. In response to this, multiple breakout room discussions were added to create space for people to meet one another. 

“I was in a breakout room with one person who I’ve known for a long time, who was talking about her role as a Head of Lower School, as a person of color who’s a Head of Lower School,” Brandon said,  “but then there was also a person who was also a Head of Lower School in our breakout room just by happenstance. The moment they realized they weren’t alone and made that connection reminded me about the importance of the conference and why it exists.

Fostering a feeling of community has been a focus of this conference. Creating a space where administrators of color can see one another and work together, and where people can feel open has been among the most important aspects of the conference.

“I got a community of support, so I got connected to others who are in similar leadership roles in independent schools which kind of created a collective knowledge I could tap into, and I also received a renewed energy for the work I am doing,” Middle and Upper School Director of Studies Sven Carlsson said. 

While administrators came from all parts of the nation, there was a sense of unity throughout the conference.

“I think there’s a unique challenge to being an administrator in an independent school when you’re a person of color,” Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Ten Acre Day School and first-time attendee Jaleesa Anselm said. “So it was really nice to be in a forum with other administrators from independent schools who understand what that situation is like.”

Over the past eight months, many events have had a profound impact on everyone but have impacted people of color more than others. As this is a gathering for people of color, much of the conference was geared towards these issues. 

“They didn’t try and pretend like anything was anything else. What’s happening today, the pandemic, the social justice movement, it was the heart of the conference,” Judkins said on Election Day.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Joy DeGruy an author and educator who focuses on the intersection of trauma, race, and American Chattel slavery. One of the topics she spoke on self-care.

“A lot of us are tired,” Judkins said. “We have been working continuously since March and as a person of color, I’ve had to contend with a lot of anxiety, so having someone speak about self-care and the importance of making sure you’re holding up okay was welcome and something I loved to hear.”

Over the years, the conference has focused on different aspects of what it means to be an administrator of color, and many have taken different things they’ve learned back into the classroom. 

“The conference has equipped me as a mentor to really be cognizant of how I fill a space, so how when I try to mentor a student, how much speaking and stating I am doing versus how much questioning, and how with mentorship again, how I can develop them into the best version of themselves, meaning how can I make them a more faithful representation of themselves rather than making them a more faithful representation of me,” Carlsson said.

Brandon wanted this to be a place where people could be themselves and be with others like them, something that even over Zoom seems to have worked. 

“It’s like a warm blanket when you’re really cold when I can spend time with people who understand what I go through everyday, who understand what I go through at my school,” Judkins said.

 “I live for these moments where we all can see each other and not have to put a persona up around us.”

This story was originally published on The Weekly on November 24, 2020.