Six upper schoolers virtually attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) to self-reflect, form allies and build community with student leaders across the globe. Fourteen faculty and staff members also attended the People of Color Conference occurring simultaneously. Both events were hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools. With the theme “Believing and Belonging in our Schools” and “Reckoning with Injustice, Reconciling with Love,” this multiracial, multicultural, multidimensional conference provided students a space that is not only safe for them to explore their identities but also a sense of belonging.
Participating students developed cross-cultural communication skills, designed effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learned the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC “family groups” and “home groups” offered space for dialogue in smaller units. Discussion topics included age, ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomics and family structure. Students shared from the “I” perspective, speaking for themselves rather than on behalf of others. They were encouraged to accept conflict and its resolution as a necessary catalyst for learning. The goal was to listen, learn, be curious, kind and compassionate to themselves and others.
Daniela “Dany” Brun ’22 shares her thoughts on the conference: “If I were to describe going to the SDLC in one word, I’d say it was refreshing. One of the most valuable aspects of the experience was identifying the ways other students at independent schools work towards social justice and the improvement of their community as a safe space for equal opportunity to succeed.
In my family group, I was part of a community where every single person cared about equity, representation, inclusion and diversity. This fostered thought-provoking conversations with a flow and depth that is rarely seen. It was refreshing to be in a group where everyone contributes a crucial piece of themselves to the discussion. I learned that an integral part of listening is identifying when to take space and give space. This means that sometimes the best way to participate is to let others take the floor and speak their truth, while other times, you should make sure your voice is heard.
One way or another, we relate to each other [in the family group] in ways we don’t to the rest of our community. It was refreshing to speak of my culture, feelings and experiences without explaining the reasons behind them because there was always someone who understood exactly what I meant or was going through.”
Jialin Li ’22 reflects: “One aspect of SDLC that was particularly meaningful to me was how many participants shared parts of their lives that were unpleasant. It was very moving and empowering to learn how other people faced and overcame difficulties as we could draw strength and experience from these stories. I also remember the faculty panels as especially inspiring since many faculty members had attended the conference as students and remembered it as a transformative experience that had a profound impact on their lives.
Furthermore, this conference has helped me gain a better understanding of the activities in the LJCDS HOPE Conference. In the past, I always thought if the HOPE conference was meant to bring us together as a community, why were we separated into affinity groups? However, after the valuable experience in my affinity group in SDLC, I realized that becoming more connected as a community is not to ignore our differences, but rather acknowledge them through the recognition that there are people in the community who share experiences and struggles that many thought were unique to themselves.
Overall, the intense discussions in SDLC made me more appreciative of the significance of promoting and respecting diversity.”