During the week of November 30 through December 4, six Trinity students attended the National Association of Independent School’s Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). This annual conference, in its 27th year, was held virtually this year for the first time.
According to NAIS, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a “multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the United States and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC ‘family groups’ and ‘home groups’ allow for dialogue and sharing in smaller units.”
“Everyone there was open to hearing other people’s stories and the amount of support was incredible,” said Chaz Sutton ’22, one of the Trinity student participants. “It made everyone happy and it felt so good. The support in the chat was so strong.” Sutton appreciated the conference’s norms, set out in the orientation, that included encouraging participants to use the “I” perspective. Collaboration and small groups were utilized throughout the conference with Jam boards and breakout rooms. They also participated in a “fishbowl” activity where they turned their cameras off on their computers and then turned them back on when the topic resonated with them. Seeing others who shared similar feelings or experiences was validating and at times moving, according to freshman Naya Shams ’24.
Chandler Grant ’22 studied the cycle of oppression and explored some of the roots of racism. One of the speakers, Dr. Bettina Love from the University of Georgia, was particularly impactful for her. Dr. Love specializes in studying the experiences of marginalized youth in formal and informal education. Grant is particularly interested in the experiences and characterizations of Black women. Tired of the narrative of “angry Black females,” she says she is working to change this stereotype.
Jack Toscano ’22 and Adele Wilkes ’23 were both part of the white affinity group that spent time talking through privilege. Said Toscano, “We talked about accepting that we have privilege and then using that responsibility and awareness in connecting with and supporting others who do not have that privilege.”
Wilkes learned one approach in conversing with those with differing viewpoints, “Instead of lecturing, try to have a conversation and understand their viewpoint.”
Cameron Walker ’24 and Naya Shams ’24 were among the younger students to attend the conference, yet both felt empowered and inspired by their respective experiences. Walker is also the president of the Trinity class of 2024, and as a leader in multiple areas in the school he appreciated this idea from the faculty panel: “To be an ally, give people a chance and a space to let their voices and experiences be heard. ‘Listen, listen, listen, then respond.’”
Shams appreciated the option of being placed in groups by both affinity and race. “I had not been in a space [like that] before, and the experience was overwhelming.”
All of the participants concluded with ideas and momentum for continuing to create change and space at Trinity. Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, head of community engagement at Trinity, met with the students to debrief at the conclusion of the conference. “It was the best virtual meeting I have been a part of,” she said. “The students’ energy was palpable, even through a computer screen. They talked nonstop for over an hour, and the sense of camaraderie among them, that shared experience, was special to see.”
This conference is something we’ve had faculty and students attend in the past, however it has been several years,” continued Weiler. “This group was so motivated to attend, and their experience ensures that we will be sending students in perpetuity going forward. I am so grateful for their commitment and work in these spaces. It is heavy work, however SDLC gave them even more tools to engage in their commitment to this work at Trinity and beyond.”