Six students traveled to Anaheim, Calif., last week to attend the annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) for the fourth year in a row. Keely Aouga ’19 and Sydney Mercado ’19 applied for an Abbot Grant last spring to help fund this three-day event that Andover students first attended 2007.
Organized by the National Association of Independent Schools, the SDLC was started in an effort to unite private schools students through conversations about race, class, gender, and sexuality. Guest speakers including American Civil Rights activists DeRay Mckesson and Kimberle Crenshaw, were also invited to speak about a wide range of topics on identity.
Mercado said, “We talk about a whole slew of social justice topics, so at the beginning of the conference, we had [Crenshaw] come and talk to us for about 45 minutes to an hour about intersectionality because she’s the woman that coined the term.”
Junah Jang ’20, who also attended the conference, said that her favorite speaker was award winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“[Coates] is… a pessimist and cynic when he talks about race… I think that aspect of realism is a counter to what we typically expect of a speaker like Obama [who is] very hopeful,” said Jang.
“Obviously, [Obama’s] super inspirational, but Coates brings this grounding realism to a lot of the issues that were talked about in the conference.”
More than 1,600 students from about 300 schools attended the event. Participants were separated into small sub-groups of 70 students to help facilitate discussion.
Miley Kaufman ’19, another participant, said, “You have three days to reflect on who you are as a person… I think that’s really special about this space. You’re surrounded by people who are very different but also very supportive and loving, and it was just a really great environment.”
“Being in sub-groups allowed us to be a lot more intimate with each other, really learn more from each other, and also to be more involved in our shared experience with others,” said Josh Thomas ’19.
Mercado added, “I think it definitely opens our eyes to a lot of the things that are happening on both our campus and other campuses. Before I went I thought our campus was progressive, but there’s a lot of things we could work on. Once I left I noticed how many other campuses were really struggling.”
One of the final activities of the event was putting together a workshop for the adults at the conference regarding socioeconomic status on campus. Given the statement, “Andover discusses race enough,” the adults were asked agree or disagree. The discussion was a space to share personal stories and to brainstorm possible solutions if they disagreed. This event framed the ideas students would take from their experiences at the conference and how they would utilize them at their respective schools.
Jang said, “We talked in our workshop specifically about socioeconomic class. We were looking through different ways we can shine lights on people’s experiences and facilitate conversations where people can share their personal experiences, which makes things more interesting.”
LaShawn Springer, Director of Community and Multicultural Development, traveled with the students to Anaheim to attend the People of Color Conference (POCC), which ran parallel to the SDLC.
Springer said, “It’s one of my favorite experiences. Students are in their own sessions all day, so we only see each other for breakfast and then at night for check-in, but it’s great to debrief on what they’re hearing and learning each day… I’m always humbled by our students and their willingness to lead us in some difficult and important conversations.”
Editor’s Note: Keely Aouga ’19 is an Associate Commentary Editor for The Phillipian.