by Leeah M. '20, Sam L. '22, Dani T. '21, and Jenny L. '21
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) is a national conference hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). It aims to engage students in workshops about diversity and equity, bring speakers who challenge and inspire the audience and to teach students about what it means to be a part of this movement to the future. The 2019 conference took place Dec. 5-7 in Seattle. Following are reflections from Lakeside students who attended the conference.
If I could use two words to describe my time at SDLC, they would be celebration and self-reflection. In every space I was present, from my “family group” consisting of about 50 students, to the Black affinity group with over 700 students, I felt immense joy and a strong sense of connection with my newly-found peers. In smaller groups, I deeply listened and learned from the experiences and perspectives of students from ranging identities, geographical regions, family structures, and other characteristics. These conversations pushed me to reflect on various aspects of my own identity matrix, and to understand the situations when I have more privilege and when I do not. In addition to these conversations, SDLC was a space where I could embrace and celebrate the beauty of my culture with peers through music, dance, and other forms of self-expression. The lessons and unforgettable memories I have taken from SDLC will stay with me forever, and I am so grateful to have been a part of this experience.
SDLC was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will certainly never forget. The people I met and the stories they shared with me changed my view on topics, and helped to educate me on topics I did not know much about. My two highlights of the entire conference was the LGBTQ+ affinity group and Schuyler Bailar’s keynote talk. The LGBTQ+ affinity space was the first time where I was completely surrounded by people in that community and I felt a strong sense of belonging. I had never been in a room with so many other queer POCs and it was so nice being able to relate to everyone and hear other peoples stories that I resonate with. It was so powerful when the queer POCs had the room to ourselves and the energy in the room was nearly tangible. It was also really awesome having a trans speaker at such a major event. It was very empowering seeing someone from the LGBTQ+ community speaking openly about their struggles and triumphs to such a large audience. Overall, SDLC gave me a very strong sense of belonging and empowerment. I would highly recommend SDLC to everyone.
SDLC was a breath of fresh air for me. I had the opportunity to meet people of every possible color and creed and people from all different walks of life. When we would all gather to listen to the keynote speakers, I would look around the room and see that I was surrounded by a sea of rich cultural heritage. When we would break off into affinity groups, the sense of unfettered black power and pride in the room was indescribable. Seeing so many people who looked like me — who had curls, skin, and features like mine — made me feel at home. In my family group, we started as awkward strangers who didn’t know even know each other’s first names. Along the way, we encouraged each other to be vulnerable, reminded each other how much we mattered, and marveled at the complex beauty of every person’s story. By the final hour, as we all hugged, cried and said our final “I’ll see you arounds", it felt like so much more than a room full of strangers. It was as if we had all been missing something and found it in that room. Not only was the trip profoundly informative, it inspired empathy, oneness, and pride among all of its attendees. Being able to experience this alongside some of my Lakeside classmates and friends was simply the icing on top of the cake. I couldn’t imagine a more enlightening or impactful two days and I’m so grateful that I was able to go. I hope that I can use what I’ve learned to make even a fraction of the impression on my peers at Lakeside as SDLC had on me. If I can inspire even one person to make change then it will have been not just the most uplifting trip ever, but also a gratifying and fulfilling experience.
Upon my return to Lakeside after SDLC, people naturally asked me questions about my experience — How was SDLC? What did you do? What did you learn? To these questions, there was only one thing I could say: “It was beautiful.” I am so privileged and lucky to have been part of this experience. The first hour of SDLC, we walked into an incredibly large conference hall filled with so many people of color bustling with energy and excitement.This energy only continued to grow for the next two days, and we shed our masks to reveal the authenticity that we didn’t even know we had to strangers from all across the country. I listened to speakers and students who addressed the exact thoughts and complexities that I had been grappling with for years, as well as stories of pain, love, grief, and joy that I could relate to with all my heart. My East Asian affinity group was only a small representation of this beautiful experience; we spoke of mental health, family relationships, solidarity within the community, interconnection with other POC communities, and what it means to love. We cried, laughed, hugged, and we found connections to our own selves in every story we heard. I also learned how much I can have in common with people with different identifiers than mine; during a keynote presentation by someone with whom I shared nearly no identifiers, I was hit with tears of understanding: Yes, that was me, that is me, that will be me. SDLC was the home that we all had needed — it was beautiful to see what could happen in a room of thousands of people who truly care. It was a place not of apathy but of empathy and love. SDLC taught me that yes, it is possible to feel empowered, have pride, and be part of a loving community. It took me a week to finally cut my SDLC entry bracelet, but I hope and know I will hold onto this experience forever. It was beautiful.