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Conference Schedule

Speakers Meet-and-Greet Happy Hour, 6-8pm: At a Manhattan gallery (address sent after ticket purchased) – for tickets, see

This is a meet-and-greet with Executive Director Torah Bontrager and available speakers.
You do not have to attend the conference in order to attend this event.

Check-in: 8:30am

Conference starts: 9:00am

Ends: 5:00pm

All topics are followed by Q&A with the speaker.

501 Schermerhorn Hall (auditorium in the Schermerhorn building)
Columbia University
1180 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027

8:30am - Check-in at Registration Desk

Coffee and tea

9:00am Welcome + Housekeeping


TBD will introduce the Amish Heritage Foundation’s mission and vision and review the conference’s agenda.

9:10am Presentation by Torah Bontrager: "The Amish Rural Education Revolution + Torah’s Personal Story”

SPEAKER: Torah Bontrager, Founder & Executive Director, Amish Heritage Foundation

Torah is very personally connected to Yoder and will share the backstory that led to 1972. Ten years before Yoder, the Amish in the community that she was born in were protesting the Iowa public school system. A now iconic photo of Amish children fleeing to the cornfields to avoid being forced out of their Amish one-room schoolhouse and onto the public school bus made national headline news. One of the children in that photo is Torah’s uncle.

Torah speaks English as a second language and was forbidden from going to school after Amish eighth grade. In the eyes of the Amish Church and the United States Supreme Court, the only future she deserved––in fact, was obligated to fulfill––was that of being a “housewife” and remaining a practicing Amish member. She’s a multiple sexual assault survivor and, to her knowledge, is the first/only Amish escapee to graduate from an Ivy League school.

Format: 15 minutes + 5-minute Q&A

9:30am Presentation by Sammy Yoder: “The Ability to Choose"
SPEAKER: Sammy Yoder, Entrepreneur

Sammy will share his story about the economic challenges he faced after leaving the Beachy Amish Church. Like the traditional Amish Church, the Beachy Amish do not allow their children to go to public schools and until very recently, their children were prohibited from attending school past the 8th grade. Even now, only some Beachy Amish churches allow or offer a high school curriculum in their schools.

Sammy will share not only his struggles due to an inadequate education, but also his sister’s and his mother’s. His mother’s education ended at the 5th grade and his sister, who also left the Beachy Amish Church, faced even more challenges than Sammy in her quest to survive in mainstream society.

Format: 10 minutes + Q&A opportunity following Laura Barbieri’s talk

Sammy says, “My story is not unique to me. To me it seems normal, actually better than normal. I have been able to look back and see the devastating effects of my family being denied education. Yet as devastating and wrong as my story is, my sister and I are among the lucky ones. Our parents allowed us to travel and make friends outside our community. We were not sexually abused and I believe our parents raised us in as good and safe of an environment that they knew how to provide. I’m not angry at my parents for denying me education. I’m angry at our government for taking away the rights of my parents which in turn led them to raise us kids the only way they knew how. Their options were far more limited than my own. My story is a best case scenario. Take my story and add to it sexual abuse, parents who refuse to let their children travel or experience other cultures and you will have a picture of the reality of thousands of Amish and Mennonite children.”

9:40am Presentation by Noura Embabi: "Childhood Education in a Queens Islamic School"
SPEAKER: Noura Embabi, Co-founder, An-Nas: Humanists Rising from Muslim Communities

Noura will present on her educational experiences in two private Islamic schools and a public high school in Queens, New York. Born to Egyptian parents who had immigrated to the US, Noura was raised in a multilingual household embedded in a culturally diverse community. She first began attending Islamic schools only on weekends, but her parents eventually enrolled her full-time in her middle school years. During this time, she received a substandard education alongside peers of many nationalities but who shared her religious faith.

Noura will describe this experience in greater detail, including the dearth of competent, qualified teachers and the ways gender segregation and control over girls’ bodies were implemented. She will then share her experience of attending public school for the first time and the impact 9/11 had on her adjustment, self-image, and level of religiosity during her high school years. Noura began questioning Islam when she was 16 years old and she now identifies as a secular humanist. She will speak about her search for a community of people with shared values and finally her motivations for co-founding An-Nas, a humanistic alternative for secular people from Muslim communities.

Format: 10 minutes + Q&A opportunity following Laura Barbieri’s talk

9:50am Presentation by Dr. Mica McGriggs: Mormon Educational Comparisons: Warren Jeff's FLDS vs. Mainstream LDS

SPEAKER: Dr. Mica McGriggs, Director, Diversity Equity & Inclusion at The Ethical Culture Fieldston School

Mica will present an overview of the differences between the educational views and practices among the mainstream Mormon Church (LDS), Fundamentalist Mormon Church (FLDS), and other offshoots. Raised LDS, Mica received a good education. Despite that, LDS women are encouraged to remain in the home, not lead professional lives in mainstream society. Many FLDS children attend parochial or home schools and receive an eighth grade or less education. In her work serving clients from Warren Jeff’s church (FLDS), Mica observed the repercussions her clients have endured legally, psychologically, and economically due to an inadequate education upon departing from the faith.

Format: 10 minutes + Q&A opportunity following Laura Barbieri’s talk

10:00am Presentation by Laura Barbieri: “Why Overturning Wisconsin v. Yoder Is Important"

SPEAKER: Laura Barbieri, Special Counsel at Advocates for Justice, Chartered Attorneys

Laura wrote the legal brief that can start the proceedings to overturn Yoder. She will give us a brief overview of Yoder so we can understand why Yoder was ruled wrongly and what needs to be done to overturn it. Laura’s talk will include explaining what an ideal plaintiff would be, and what the next steps are for Amish Heritage Foundation now that AHF found its ideal plaintiff.

Format: 15 minutes + 20-minute Q&A along with prior three speakers

10:35am Break

Coffee, tea, and snacks

10:50am Presentation by Chrissy Stroop: "#ExposeChristianSchools: How America’s Lax Education Laws Allow Radical Evangelicals to Indoctrinate Children and Harm LGBTQ Folks"

SPEAKER: Chrissy Stroop, Writer, Commentator & Journalist

Chrissy was raised evangelical and educated in private evangelical schools through high school. While still in high school, she experienced an acute crisis of faith, which led to her work today as a prominent voice in the exvangelical community and movement.

Chrissy will share her research on what’s motivating the growing K-12 homeschooling movement within the Christian Right and what the implications are for democracy when the law lets radical Christians get away with so much.

Her talk will also address the restrictive environment of Christian colleges: schools where students, faculty, and staff are required to sign theologically conservative statements of faith and lifestyle agreements, some of which bar not only extramarital sex and drinking, but also dancing and mandating chapel attendance. Such schools also deem a “homosexual lifestyle” to be a violation of their code of conduct, and will suspend or revoke admission to the school. Such discrimination is routine—and largely legally protected—at evangelical and fundamentalist Christian colleges.

More than 140 evangelical schools are represented by the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU). CCCU will force member institutions to resign if they allow e.g., the hiring of faculty and staff in same-sex marriages. CCCU’s members make a collective economic impact on the United States of more than $60 billion annually. What does this level of influence and power have on lobbying against a child’s right to a quality education?

Format: 20 minutes + 5-minute Q&A

11:15am Panel: Education & Women's Equality

PANELISTS: Mary Spicher, Sarah Quinones, Hana Joy, Jethro Fisher

The Education & Women’s Equality panel features four individuals (Beachy Amish, Jehovah’s Witness, home-schooled), only one of whom has an undergrad degree because their religious upbringing discouraged or prohibited them from attending high school or college.

The discussion will focus on the education they received and the status of women in their communities of origin. They’ll talk about their vision for giving women equal status in their respective cultures, the challenges they face to change the status quo, and what the general public can do to help support members from their communities who want to further their education.

There’ll be an audience Q&A after the panel.

Moderator: Torah Bontrager

11:45pm Lunch

On your own, but we’ll recommend campus cafes and nearby restaurants for people to meet at to continue the morning discussions. Torah welcomes anyone to join her for lunch.

1:15pm KEYNOTE by Prof. Michael Rebell: “Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts, and Civic Participation”

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Michael Rebell, Attorney and Professor, Teachers College & Columbia University Law School

“Most people think that children have a right to an adequate education under the US Constitution. But the federal courts have never held that there is such a right.” – Prof. Michael Rebell

Prof. Rebell is serving as the lead attorney for Rhode Island public school students and parents who have filed a federal lawsuit against the state for failing to prepare children for citizenship, arguing that that failing violates their rights under the United States Constitution. His keynote will examine the difference between federal and state laws when it comes to education and how those laws impact democracy. He will also offer specific calls to action toward making education an explicit federal right for all children and enforcing existing state education laws.

Prof. Michael Rebell is the executive director of the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the education-adequacy movement in the United States and has pioneered the legal theory and strategy of educational adequacy.

Prof. Rebell is an experienced litigator in the field of education law, and is also professor of law and educational practice at Teachers College and Columbia Law School.

His latest book is Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts and Civic Participation (2018).

Format: 45 minutes with Q&A

2:00pm Presentation by Naftuli Moster: "Educational Neglect in Yeshivas Across New York"

SPEAKER: Naftuli Moster, Executive Director, YAFFED (Youth Advocates for Fair Education)

Tens of thousands of children are being denied a secular education in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas. Public officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and his current and former education chancellors, have repeatedly failed to ensure that these schools provide Hasidic children with a secular education, as required by New York State’s century-old “substantial equivalency” law. Recently, the New York State Education Department proposed regulations to enforce this law. This was met with intense opposition from yeshiva leaders and their allies. Young Advocates for Fair Education (Yaffed) is leading the fight to support enforcement of education standards.

Format: 20 minutes + 10-minute Q&A

2:30pm Presentation by Dr. Glen Brooks: "Ketamine for Early Childhood Trauma"

SPEAKER: Dr. Glen Brooks, Anesthesiologist + Medical Director of NY Ketamine Infusions

*****UPDATE: Dr. Brooks will not be able to make the conference in person due to unforeseen circumstances. We’re thrilled to be able to show a short video, however, that covers the main points of what his talk would have been about.*****

Ketamine infusions are legal in all 50 states, if administered by an appropriate medical doctor. Ketamine is especially successful in treating patients who suffer from early childhood trauma. Many individuals who were raised in an insular or fundamentalist environment suffer from a range of abuses including educational and religious. Very few are aware of ketamine infusions as a potential option for alleviating their post-traumatic stress.

Dr. Glen Brooks will explain, based on decades of ketamine research, why post-traumatic stress isn’t a chemical imbalance and really much more of a structural problem. He explains how ketamine can fix the neurons in our mood centers so that we PTS/D sufferers can have a normal mood again.

Ketamine is a very good drug and it’s a very safe drug. Dr. Brooks’ success rate is 85% to 90% for someone under age 30. And between ages 30 and 50, the success rate is 80%. For over 50, the success rate is worth giving ketamine a try if nothing else has worked for you.

Unfortunately there’s a lot of material about ketamine that frightens patients and frightens the parents of young adults who should be going in for treatment. There’s always the argument that ketamine is a recreational and addictive drug and that we don’t know the long-term consequences of using ketamine. Well, that’s just plain incorrect. We do know the long-term consequences and there are no bad ones. No addiction comes from any of the clinics that administer ketamine properly. There’s absolutely no dependence on this drug at all.

Format: 10 minutes + 10-minute Q&A

2:50pm Panel: Nontraditional First Generation College Students

PANELISTS: Carrie Pritt (raised Quiverfull), Rodrigo Soza (American Latinx military veteran), Kai Segall (raised ultra-Orthodox Jewish), plus more. Moderated by TBD

The Nontraditional First Generation College Students panel features four individuals (evangelical Christian (“Quiverfull”), Baptist, Hasidic, home-schooled) from an educationally deprived background, or culture in which a college education simply for the sake of learning was not valued. Three out of the four panelists are Columbia University School of General Studies (GS) students. 

Torah Bontrager is a GS alumna and is passionate about informing others from disadvantaged or unusual backgrounds about GS, the only Ivy League college dedicated to nontraditional students. When she discovered GS, she felt for the first time in her life what it was like to belong: her story and path were no longer unique; every GSer shared a nontraditional route toward fulfilling their educational dreams. 

The panel discussion will focus on each person’s educational journey and shine a light on the specific struggles that students who don’t have family and/or financial support go through. No student should be denied an education, or forced to go through hoops, simply because their parents refused to––or were financially unable to––support them. 

Carrie, home-schooled before college, will share her challenges getting federal aid through FAFSA when her parents refused to support her after she left the religion. 

Rodrigo, a military veteran of Latinx heritage, believes that education is the key to happiness and is outspoken in criticizing his culture’s tendency to de-emphasize the importance of education beyond getting a $25 p/hr job.

Raised Chassidic (ultra-Orthodox Jewish), Kai’s education stopped at the third grade level. As a First-generation Low-Income (FGLI) student, Kai works with others on issues that many FGLI students face, particularly at elite intuitions, such as food and housing insecurity.

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Each panelist will also share their ideas of what can be done today, immediately, to correct the educational injustices they faced, both in terms of policy and in terms of what the general public can do to help support disadvantaged individuals who want to further their education.

There’ll be an audience Q&A after the panel.

Moderator: Torah Bontrager


3:20pm Break

Coffee, tea, and snacks

3:35pm Presentation by Olivia Cadwell: "From Religious Fundamentalism: Reading Fiction and Theory of Mind"

SPEAKER: Olivia Cadwell, PhD Candidate, Social Psychology, The New School

Raised in an insular and isolated environment, Olivia turned to fiction as a coping mechanism. In her talk, she will provide an overview of her prior research in literature and neuroscience and explain why reading certain kinds of fiction was an effective coping mechanism for her, such as generating empathy for herself and others. Olivia will argue that reading religious holy books have the opposite effect. When literature is negative, it creates hate and strips one of self worth and self empowerment.

Olivia’s current research focusses on technology (and literature/storytelling) as an extension of identity. The baseline is looking at how we create in and out groups based on our preferences. Her long-term interest is in examining social trust and commitment. E.g., Is there a connection between being extremely committed to a religious identity and manifesting associated discriminating behavior across the board?

The cult-like aspect of being committed to a religion despite opposing evidence creates the perception we have of others. Religion feeds into the desire to create community and a sense of self and belonging. But creating that community and sense of self also creates an out group. And that’s where hate and discrimination come from.

Format: 15 minutes + 5-minute Q&A

3:55pm Presentation by Mary Zimmerman: "Empowering Amish Women"

SPEAKER: Mary Zimmerman, Mental Health Professional

Mary is a social worker with Amish clients in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A mandated reporter, she serves as a liaison between her Amish clients and local law enforcement when allegations of abuse arise. Mary will share the unique challenges her position puts her in and what can and should be done to help children and women victims of sexual abuse inside the Amish Church. She will also address how to hold Amish clergy and law enforcement accountable for not enforcing the law that applies to every US citizen.

Format: 10 minutes + 5-minute Q&A

4:10pm Presentation by Lena Glick & Elam Stoltzfus: Why I Quit My Job to Go to High School

SPEAKERS: Lena Glick, Children’s Education Advocate; Elam Stoltzfus, Amish Escapee & High School Student

*****UPDATE: Lena and Elam will not be able to make the conference in person due to unforeseen circumstances. However, we’re thrilled to be able to show a pre-recorded message from them that covers the main points of what their talk would have been about.*****

What if you were forced by law enforcement to send a 15-year-old child, who escaped in order to go to high school, back to their abusive Amish parents? Lena had to do that to avoid being charged with “harboring a minor”. She’ll talk about how gut-wrenching and heartbreaking it is to see a child’s rights being violated and feeling powerless to help. What would you do if the law were on the side of a religion and abusive parents, and against a child who desperately just wants to learn?

Lena was able to help Elam go to high school because he was old enough to not get forced back when he escaped. Elam, currently a teenage high school student, will share why he left the only world he knew just to be able to learn. Hearing him tell his story is an extremely rare opportunity for our audience. This is a story of triumphing despite the federal government’s denial that all children have a Constitutional right to an adequate education, and despite individual states refusing to enforce their education laws among all schools.

Format: 15 minutes + 15-minute Q&A

4:40pm Closing Remarks
5:30-7:30pm Post-Conference Gathering: Location announced during closing remarks

Torah and available speakers invite all attendees to gather at a restaurant (near Schermerhorn) to continue the conversations post-conference.

What are you waiting for?