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River Grove DEI committee hosts Listening to Young People conversation night

PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - District students and staff, including director of equity and strategic initiatives David Salerno Owens.

River Grove Elementary's Diversity Equity and Inclusion team held an event May 1 in collaboration with the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project called Listening to Young People. The discussion was attended by students, parents and teachers in the community.

The conversation was facilitated by Emily Squires and Sage Dupre from the Conversation Project, whose mission is to connect people to ideas and to each other — not to push an agenda or arrive at consensus, but embrace loose ends. "We believe that conversation is a powerful medium to invite diverse perspectives, explore challenging questions and strive for just communities," reads their mission statement.

Blaise Hammer, a River Grove counselor and member of the DEI team, said it's one of the team's goals to host more community events at the school. "We wanted to host more community based events to help bring the work we're doing to the community," she said. "We're trying to have more educational and informative nights to engage our community in the process of inclusion."

The Conversation Project has more than fifty topics to choose from, including race and power, immigration, food systems and the experiences of interracial families in Oregon.

Out of all of the topics, the River Grove DEI team decided to address youth. The conversation asked participants to explore their beliefs about what it means to be young and reflect on their individual relationship to power as it relates to age.PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Conversation facilitators Emily Squires (left) and Sage Dupre (right) at River Grove.

"We looked through the offered conversation topics and pinned it down to some that would speak to our elementary community, and that people would feel comfortable getting their toes wet with," Hammer said. "So many of us work with young voices, we wanted to have an opportunity for parents to get a different lens for how to listen to youth."

The conversation was centered around the ideas that, "Cultural beliefs about young people, combined with laws that control their physical and emotional autonomy and limit their ability to participate in public life, perpetuate myths that cause harm," read the event's description. "Young people experiencing marginalization for any reason — race, gender, sexuality, ability — also have the added layer of not being taken seriously because of their age."

Participants discussed appropriate ages for children to get certain rights, like having control over their wardrobe choices or seeking mental health treatment without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. The state of Oregon currently allows someone as young as 14 to seek mental health treatment without parental consent, an age which most attendees agreed with.

They also discussed the age in which a person should get access to social media. Some people gravitated towards 17 or 18 years old, while many thought around 12 was appropriate. One student shared that because she had social media from a young age, she was able to learn to be smart on the internet — but noted that the internet can be a scary place, especially for kids.

The event was attended by current and former students of the school district. Hammer said that hearing opinions from older students could be extremely valuable for parents of young children. "It was great that we had students there sharing their perspectives. Some students shared that they didn't feel understood or heard by their parents growing up," she said. "Hopefully this will be a way for parents to rethink things they have heard from their children and understand their perspective more."

Hammer said the DEI team plans to continue hosting community events like Listening to Young People. "We're going to explore other offerings that (the Conversation Project) has, and start digging in a little bit deeper into race or other identify-specific topics," she


For more information on the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, visit

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