Students Attend National Leadership Conference

For Justice Robinson ’18, “stay woke” is one of the mantras that she will remember most from her trip this past week to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (S.D.L.C.) in Atlanta, Ga.

“It means stay aware to what is going on around you,” said Robinson. “Don’t let the systems of oppression and effects of privilege get past you. Stay woke, don’t sleep, be aware of what’s going on.”

Robinson, along with Bennett Sherr ’17, Abdu Donka ’18, Cindy Espinosa ’18, Allison Zhu ’19, and chaperones LaShawn Springer, Director of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD); Karina Hernandez-Guarniz, Associate Director of College Counseling; and LaShonda Long, Instructor in English, attended S.D.L.C., a three-day conference in which over 1,600 students gather to discuss topics surrounding identity and inclusivity in schools. 

Students attended from various private and independent schools across the country to participate in the nearly 25-year-old annual conference hosted by the National Association for Independent Schools.

“We were able to talk about race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, ability, family structure, and many other aspects of our identity and get to hear stories from people across the country,” wrote Sherr in an email to The Phillipian. “The general atmosphere at the conference [was] one of compassion and respect.”

During the conference, the students were split up into “family” groups of approximately 70 to 90 people named after famous activists and “home” groups of around 10 people. Some Andover students served as peer facilitators in these groups leading the conversations at the daily check-ins of home groups.

For Sherr, the most rewarding part of the conference was the selection of affinity groups.

“I went to the queer affinity group, and I honestly had such an amazing time. It was incredible to see the amount of trust each person had in one another and how easily we were all able to relate because of our shared experiences. As people came out, members of the group who were already out, including myself, applauded and cheered for the people that stood up in front of the group,” said Sherr.

After attending the conference and speaking to students from other boarding schools, Donka believes that Andover is more progressive than other schools in terms of inclusivity.

“From all the different places I found that Andover was ahead and really unique, especially with how they set up MLK Day and how there’s a lot of programs and affinity groups in CAMD to help students that are engaged in this school,” said Donka.

The S.D.L.C. trip for Andover students has become an annual tradition, financed by a grant that is applied for and obtained yearly from the Abbot Academy Association. This year, Donka, who applied and was granted an Abbot Grant in Spring Term, then coordinated the event alongside CAMD, and students underwent an application process to attend.

According to the attendants of the conference interviewed by The Phillipian, many of them hope to bring what they learned at S.D.L.C. and have it discussed on campus.

“I think it’s very imperative that we, as people that went to conference, use what we got from other people,” said Robinson. “I think it’s even more important to take what we learned from the students we were talking to with their experiences in their school system and their experience with oppression. Taking [the experience] to heart and turning it into something that we can apply to our own school.”