Niah Sei ’23: Taking Action and Making Change

Niah Sei ’23: Taking Action and Making Change

By Niah Sei ’23, Student Inclusivity Coordinator

In my experience from freshman year as a Person of Color, I've experienced a lot of struggles. There are not a lot of Black students at Catlin, specifically in the Upper School, and it felt kind of lonely to be the only Black girl in the class. I felt like I was sort of a lone wolf. But I did have my friends and I did have my teachers who all supported me. And I felt comfortable going to people and telling them about how I felt.

So I wanted to do something for the students who didn't feel as comfortable speaking out, or who just wanted someone they could trust to go to with their worries. And I thought that the Student Inclusivity Coordinator role would be perfect for that. That's mainly why I wanted to be in this role.

What I think is working really well at Catlin is the conversation aspect. It all starts with having conversations about these issues and conversations about how we can make our community a better place. That is one thing that Catlin does very well: there are different spaces for different people to share how they feel. And, generally, people are very open-minded to new ideas and new experiences, and no one's really completely closed off to having these conversations, even though they might be uncomfortable.

But one of the big things I've heard is that some students aren't as receptive as others to actually taking action. That's often where people get frustrated. Because we have these conversations and people contribute. But when it comes to moving past those conversations and actually making change in our community, no one wants to do anything. And ultimately, if the student body isn't changing anything, nothing is going to change. You can't force people to do anything.

I also hear from a lot of students about the need for more diversity in the student body. And the need for diversity in the faculty, because it all starts with the faculty. It's nice to have other students who identify in similar ways that you do because you can connect on that level and on those experiences, but if you're all learning about minority experiences from people in majority groups, we lose that first person perspective. There's a connection that could be lost with students if they experience things similar to what we're learning about, but can't talk to any faculty that speak from the I perspective.

I've worked with faculty pretty closely on these specific topics. And one thing I've noticed is that they are afraid to make mistakes. I think it's something that's holding us back. I'm not saying we should not think about the repercussions of our actions or what we're saying. But without taking risks and jumping into the deep end, we're not really making any progress. It’s a problem because we're having these conversations and we're trying to do everything perfect the first try and not offend anybody, and we're going in circles. What I've learned in this work is that you have to be thoughtful and deliberate about what you're doing, but also you just have to try and see what works and what doesn't, and learn from your mistakes and just hope for the best. Because without that, nothing is going to change.

So one of the goals that I have is making sure that we are a community that is not only inclusive, but is actively taking steps to continue that inclusivity and make sure that people are not only coming into the school that are of different perspectives and different experiences, but making sure that those people feel comfortable and actually stay at the school. I think that all starts with the culture of the student body and obviously the faculty and administration as well.

I think a lot of the students and administration, people on campus in general, may not see the value and effort that people put into diversity and inclusion work every day. I see it because I'm part of the work and I interact with Jasmine, Connie, and John a lot, so I know what they're doing behind the scenes, but a lot of people don’t see that.

There's so much work that goes into it, so much emotional strain. And thinking about this all the time is exhausting. I don't think people really acknowledge that at the school. I hope that people will understand and appreciate that there's work going on, and that these are important issues that people tackle every day.