Saint Mary's School News

Reunited in Purpose: Reflections on the NAIS 2022 People of Color Conference

A contingent of Saint Mary’s administrators, faculty, and staff attended the 36th Annual NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2022. This year’s PoCC theme was Reunited in Purpose: Elevating Our Worth, Our Agency, and Our Excellence. Representing Saint Mary’s at the conference were Assistant Head of School Patricia Sasser, School Counselor Aisha Burton, Director of Learning Support Tai Hinkins, Instructor of Music Jennifer Moran, and Instructor of Humanities and Social Sciences Megan Traquair. 

Started in 1986, the NAIS People of Color Conference’s mission is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. More than 7,800 conference attendees from around the country and world, representing the largest attendance to date, attended seminars, master classes, affinity groups and more than 100 workshops on diverse topics relevant to people of color in independent schools.

Grounded in purpose, this motif also heralds the emergent, determined action needed to reverse the loss of civil and human rights that threatens democracy and harms those who experience identity-based discrimination.

For many attendees, PoCC is about connection, community, belonging, learning and a commitment to positively impacting and inspiring meaningful institutional change in independent schools.

Those attending on behalf of Saint Mary's reflected on the experience with the following thoughts.

Aisha Burton

“For me, it’s a reset time,” says Aisha Burton, Saint Mary's school counselor. “It’s a time of mental, emotional, and even spiritual reset. It’s a calming and peaceful time. It’s like a homecoming and a reunion. To be in a sea of 7,800 people, the majority of whom are people of color connected by common experiences, is a cathartic, calm, joyful, rejuvenating time of unspoken understanding between others who walk in your shoes every day and are dedicated to making our schools better places for all. There is a healing power to being in a room where people truly understand your experience. You can work on yourself and then come back and pass that along to our students. If you attend this conference, you will get something special from it, and will come back rejuvenated and inspired.”

Tai Hinkins

“This was my first time attending the PoCC on behalf of Saint Mary’s, but my third time overall, and it gets better and more inspiring each time,” says Tai Hinkins, director of learning services at SMS. “As a person of color, it rejuvenates you to be in an environment where you can bring your full and authentic self while focusing on aspects of your identity you don’t dwell on in your day-to-day experience. To engage in these topics and celebrate who you are with your peers is so affirming. But PoCC is not just for people of color, and it dispels the assumption that everyone is having the same experience. The diverse gathering of people gives attendees insight and experience into different people’s reality. There is something powerful about the humanity of it all, and some moments were truly emotional, so you had to pause and reflect through it all,” says Hinkins. “It helped me remember what it was like for me when I was a student and reminded me that doing the work of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging for our students is about helping pave an easier road for them in their lives.”

Jennifer Moran

“The People of Color Conference experience was extraordinary and inspirational,” says Jennifer Moran. “I attended so many enlightening and interesting workshops, met wonderful people from all over the world, and learned more about the work that we, as attendees, can bring back to Saint Mary’s to enhance the work we are doing in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. More than ever, I feel challenged and called to serve as an ally to all.”

Megan Traquair

“As a first-time attendee at PoCC, my experience was incredibly empowering,” said Megan Traquair, as she reflected on her experience at the conference. “I have always been passionate about social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, so it felt immensely inspiring to be surrounded by people who were also dedicated to that same mission in their own institutions around the country. Being able to attend events like PoCC is such an amazing gift because it allowed me to connect with a larger network of educators and feel supported in my mission on a greater level.”

Patricia Sasser

Patricia Sasser, Saint Mary's assistant head of school, presented this year at a workshop with several other assistant head colleagues from peer schools. The workshop, So, You Want to be an Assistant Head of School, was popular with a room of aspiring school leaders.

PoCC attendees also heard from the following keynote speakers:

  • Amanda Nguyen, Social entrepreneur, civil rights activist, and founder/CEO of Rise (a nongovernmental civil rights organization)
  • Charles Vogl, adviser, author, and speaker
  • Dr. J. Luke Wood, San Diego State University Vice President for Student Affairs and Campus Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer
  • Nikki Giovani, world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator 
  • Shakil Choudhury, award-winning educator and author with 28 years of experience in the field of racial justice and equity
  • José Luis Vilson, a veteran educator, writer, speaker, and activist.      

Running concurrently with the People of Color Conference for adults is the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) attended by 1600 students from schools around the country. This year’s SDLC theme was We the People: Leveraging Our Community to Preserve Our Humanity. SDLC was started in 1993. Saint Mary’s students have attended the SDLC in previous years prior to the pandemic and virtually during the pandemic years. Plans are in the works for students to resume participation at next year’s conference in St. Louis.

The NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and sustainability for independent schools. Learn more at

Saint Mary’s sends staff each year to the People of Color Conference as part of the school’s commitment to diversity, community, and belonging, which is among our strategic goals. Saint Mary’s believes that inclusivity is an essential component of a learning community. For more information about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Saint Mary’s School, please visit:


Jennifer Moran; Tai Hinkins; and Patricia Sasser; with the Rev. David A. Madison, D.Min., and Dr. Monica Gillespie (former head of Saint Mary's School), of the National Association of Episcopal Schools; pictured at the 2022 NAIS PoCC.