An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Ann H. ’22

This past November six students and 16 teachers from Lakeside travelled to Nashville participate in the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) and the People of Color Conference (PoCC). This year marks SDLC 25th anniversary, and for each of those years Lakeside has sent students to it. According to the website, SDLC is a conference that draws in over 1,600 students across the country, primarily students of color, come together to spend time discussing and reflecting on identity. For two days, these high schoolers learn how to effectively produce social justice through dialogue and the arts, master what it means to be an ally, and attain the skills for cross-cultural communication. Aidan C. ’20 and Mr. McKinley spoke more about their experiences. 

This year was Mr. McKinley's first time chaperoning SDLC and going to the PoCC. Even though he had never gone before, he immediately felt welcomed. When I asked why he felt it was so important for him to attend he said there were two main reasons: one was is that at Lakeside, he is a student equity coordinator, the second was more about his own interest in the subject matters saying, “I’m really interested in the ideas of how we can support students who are people of color and my colleagues who are people of color.” He felt that he attended as part duty and in part because of his passion Mr. McKinley said that the conference left him with two big messages and takeaways: awareness of his white privilege and a need to discuss social justice in every subject. One of his favorite workshops talked about how social justice should be taught during classes besides history, where it is most commonly discussed. The leader of the workshop specifically focussed on how to incorporate it into math, which inspired Mr. McKinley to bring it into his own math classes at Lakeside. To Mr. McKinley the most important message from the conference was that “as teachers we love every kid, every kid is unique and special, and that not only do we need to love them, we need to make them feel like they are loved and cared for.” Students need to come to school with the feeling that this is a place where they can succeed no matter what their identity is. This idea was emphasised strongly and effectively by Marc Lamont Hill, who was the final speaker for both SDLC and PoCC. 

When I asked how Mr. McKinley thought his experience as a white man differed from the ones of the six students high schoolers who are all people of color he said: “I think it was really powerful for them to be surrounded by so many other students who are similar to them, because when our students are at school everyday they are in a clear minority, but at the conference they were in the majority.” He also said that it was different because “for them it was more learning how to be more empowered to be leaders in the community, and for me it was more how do I support people of color.” He hopes that in taking students to SDLC Lakeside will be investing in building future social justice leaders in our community, and that the teachers who went to PoCC will now have skills to support the new student leaders. 

For most people, Aidan C. ’20 is a familiar face around Lakeside. He is often found making announcements for student government on stage at assembly, or facilitating TBH discussions around campus. Aidan applied for SDLC for many reasons, one of which was to further build leadership skills. Aidan commented: “I think it’s important to have a voice, and to know how to be a leader.” He attributes these values to his parents. SDLC also gave him a chance to be in the majority in terms of people who looked like him, saying, “I wanted to see what it was like going from the minority to the majority.” One of the times where he was most aware of this at the conference, was when student broke off into affinity groups. Aidan said that going to the LGBTQ and black affinity groups was empowering: “Meeting people who had the same experience I had...was self rewarding because I could say, oh I’m going through that too and I can totally relate.” Reflecting on the conference, Aidan said there were two parts for him that were most powerfull: how deep and meaningful conversations about identity were when there were no adults around and the idea that social change can be made just through having conversations and using your words. Coming back from the conference, Aidan hopes that he can help Lakeside to find ways to approach conversations about identity on campus, which were most effective when the students weren’t afraid to say something that might be incorrect or uncomfortable, or when they were willing to just put their ideas out there with no judgment, something that can be hard to do for most high schoolers. By being on the TBH committee, Aidan is hoping to put more effort into creating spaces for these conversations. He is also hoping that if he starts leading by example with saying whatever is on his mind and being a active participant in these matters, his peers will follow suit. 

After talking with both Mr. McKinley and Aidan, it is clear that they had an amazing and inspiring experience at the conferences. Coming back they both already have ideas and projects to further improve the lives of Lakesiders that we should all be looking forward to.