Education student organizes diversity conference
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Growing up in an urban area of south Florida, Annie Cave was accustomed to interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds and different economic statuses. In her experience, it was the social norm.
“I grew up in an area that was in a very diverse neighborhood, where about 70 percent of students received free and reduced lunches,” said Cave, a senior in the College of Education’s special education and curriculum and instruction IUG program. “Upon arriving at Penn State, I was surprised to learn that many of my peers had little to no experience with populations of this nature.”
She now is helping her classmates — future educators — become more aware of the differences that exist in education with “Preparing for the Future: Educating ALL students in ALL Spaces,” a diversity-in-education themed conference scheduled for Feb. 11 at University Park.
Five years after arriving on campus, Cave said she is still amazed at the differences she sees between the local community and her hometown.
“Even now as I am student teaching, I feel privileged because of all the resources available to students,” she said, explaining that she is in a classroom with eight paraprofessionals and a school that has a rock-climbing wall in the gym — luxuries many public schools do not have.
Cave, a member of the Penn State University Student Council for Exceptional Children (PSU-SCEC), began to wonder how she could expose her peers to the vast differences that exist in the world.
“I was talking to students from other SCEC chapters across the state to see what they did as an organization and one said they put on mini professional development conferences,” she said.
Cave immediately approached Jonte Taylor, assistant professor of special education and member of the College of Education’s Diversity and Community Enhancement Committee (DCEC), for help in hosting a conference focused on diversity in education.
“When Annie first approached me about the idea of organizing a conference, I knew it was a great idea, but I also knew it would be a monumental task,” Taylor said, adding that Cave’s ambition and go-getter attitude was not surprising.
“This is an environment that many teachers dream of, but also one that few kids will ever see,” she said. “And I think it is important for my peers, other future teachers, to see both ends of the spectrum of education so that they are truly prepared for the world of teaching.”
DCEC and PSU-SCEC worked together to design the conference, which will be set up as a forum that will allow attendees to participate in an open dialogue about current diversity-related issues in education. Topics currently slated for discussion are: English Language Learners; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Allies (LGBTQA); Inclusion (Students with Disabilities/Exceptionalities); Culturally/Linguistically/Ethnically Diverse Students (CLD); Micro/Macro Aggressions; and Co-Teaching/Professional Collaboration.
“As teachers, counselors, administrators or anyone working with children and teenagers, it is crucial that we do our best to understand and be sensitive to their needs and concerns,” Taylor said. “This includes a level of empathy that we sometimes do not have because we lack experience and exposure.”
As a white female, Cave said she is aware that her status comes with a certain privilege.
“But I think when you realize your privilege, it is easier to acknowledge the hardships other diverse populations face,” she said. “I’m hoping this conference will help others do that. Penn State does an excellent job spreading a sense of inclusion on campus but I think it also is important to show future teachers what could happen in a diverse school setting.”
“The big takeaway is that the conference is informative and educational, and that attendees leave with the ideas, tools, strategies and/or supports in being the best professionals they can be and doing great things for students regardless of setting, background, situation or difference,” Taylor said.
“Preparing for the Future: Educating ALL students in ALL Spaces” is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, and is open to all Penn State students, faculty and staff. Participants can register for free at http://bit.ly/2jH6NQu online.
By Jessica Buterbaugh (January 2017)