Kent Place seniors Zayba Abdulla of Berkeley Heights, Ashley Hughes of Hillside and junior Samantha Klein of Short Hills were awarded the prestigious Princeton Prize in Race Relations from the Northern New Jersey Princeton Prize Committee.
The Princeton Prize in Race Relations, given by Princeton University and funded and organized by Princeton alumni, recognizes, supports and encourages young people in 24 regions throughout the United States who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing the cause of positive race relations.
Students are required to fill out an application and the winners are recognized with a cash prize. Each candidate must have been actively involved in a volunteer activity in the last 12 months that has had a significant, positive impact on race relations - broadly defined - in his or her school or community. Zayba, Ashley and Samantha applied for the prize as a group rather than individually because, as club leaders and members of Kent Place's Diversity Council, they worked so seamlessly together, and as proponents of social justice, they did not want to seek individual recognition.
Kent Place's Diversity Council is a leadership group of students who have demonstrated an interest in working with other students on issues of diversity and social justice.
Junior Samantha Klein's work with Spectrum, a Middle School club run by Upper School students to discuss issues of diversity, was a key component in this year's freshman class having an unprecedented high level of experience with and passion for discussions on race and diversity. They were the main reason that the Diversity Council opened meetings once a month to the whole school for a discussion forum, where they are routinely packed with students hungry to talk about current events. Diversity Council also received 30 applications for the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in 2009, which was three times what has been received in the past, and the majority of the applications were from freshmen.
Both Ashley Hughes and Zayba Abdulla were instrumental in organizing a Student Exchange with St. Benedict's Prep, an all male Catholic school located in Newark, NJ. The Exchange emerged from a need to see diversity beyond the boundaries of Kent Place and to allow students the opportunity to experience a day in the life of students from different area schools.
"With a host of socioeconomic, racial, geographic, religious and the obvious gender difference among us, there was much to see and much to be learned," remarked Ashley. "The entire Upper School community engaged in discussion about how we define gender, how it effects a school community (in both single sex and co-ed schools), the stereotypes which accompany single sex schools and how they relate to gender. The Exchange activity forced us as a school community to look introspectively at how we view gender to build a community understanding of how we view ourselves and how we view others."
Zayba, Diversity Council's president of three years, spent countless hours planning and executing details of the student exchange. Ashley, last year's de facto Diversity Council secretary and vice president, composed multiple drafts of the exchange proposal and presented the exchange to the faculty. Both students led debriefing discussions about the activity afterwards with their peers. This February marked the second year of the Student Exchange with St. Benedict's.
In addition to Spectrum and the Student Exchange, Diversity Council leaders and members accomplished many things over the past year alone: they presented and facilitated discussion sessions with guest speakers who promoted empathy and acceptance around issues of race, religion, sexual orientation and identity; participated in sending students to conferences, which included Lead for Diversity, Manytown and the People of Color Conference; devoted one meeting a month to a discussion forum on current events and issues; and continued an afterschool mentorship/exchange with students from Newark's Link Community School.
"To me, winning the Princeton Prize was a symbol of the incredible effort and work that our community has made towards achieving social justice and creating a safe and welcoming community for all that are a part of it," remarked Zayba. "With the help and support of the faculty and my peers these past four years, the Diversity Council has truly made a lasting mark on the Kent Place community - and the Princeton Prize will hopefully be one of many more to come."
"I think I was more excited about getting the Princeton Prize than anything else so far this year," said Ashley. "Knowing that someone wanted to honor the work that I loved doing was the best feeling in the world."
Added Samantha, "Winning the prize means so much to me. Over the past three years Diversity Council has blossomed. It is so wonderful to be rewarded for our hard work."
To honor the 2010 Princeton Prize in Race Relations winners, an awards ceremony will be held at the AT&T Auditorium in Bedminster, NJ, on Tuesday, April 27. Larry Hamm, the founder and president of the People's Organization for Progress (POP) will be the keynote speaker.
Founded in 1894, Kent Place School is New Jersey's largest nonsectarian, college-preparatory school for girls and young women. Visit Kent Place at www.kentplace.org