This week, four Marin Academy students are in Houston, Texas at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). Founded in 1993 and hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of high school student leaders from around the country. Participants examine issues of equity and justice in independent skills, develop effective cross-cultural communication skills, practice expression through the arts, and learn networking principles and strategies. They are encouraged to apply the leadership principles they develop within their own communities after the conference.
Dean of Freshman Hideko Akashi, Dean of Students Lynne Hansen, Dean of Multicultural Life Sanjai Moses, and Dean of Faculty Nicole Stanton are also in Houston attending the People of Color Conference (POCC). Nicole explains, “Many teachers and administrators of color are the only, or one of just a few, people of color on their campus. POCC provides a much-needed opportunity to come together to discuss a wide range of pertinent issues: how do people of color help build inclusive communities at their schools? How do people of color find their way into school leadership and how can that impact school cultures? How can people of color expand their professional, interpersonal, and curricular ‘toolboxes’ for teaching about social justice? And finally, how can people of color support each other so that we are better able to make a difference within our communities?” While the two conferences are related, participants of POCC and SDLC don’t interact until Friday, when the students put what they have learned into practice by facilitating a large group discussion about equity.
Each year, we have more students apply to attend than we can send; preference is given to sophomores through seniors, students of color, those who have never attended, and students who have demonstrated leadership at MA. Sanjai explains, “For many of our students of color, it will be the first time they meet so many other kids of color that attend independent schools around the country. The experience is often validating and affirming for them. They meet in small groups that are multiracial and cross-cultural. They meet in racial affinity groups. They hear from guest speakers, authors, poets, activists, alumni, politicians, and journalists. They engage in intensive group discussion and activities where they are asked to examine their own bias. It is often an intense, emotional, and heavy for them. They start the day at 8:00 am and often return to their hotel rooms at 10:30 pm. We process with them on the way back to the hotel rooms, on the plane and when we return to school.”
Some of our current students and alumni have written about their experiences at SDLC:
“The affinity groups were a key part of my SDLC experience, as they were the groups that were the most specific to our identities and ethnicity. Walking into the Latino student group was truly a surprise; I was so used to being the only Latino in the room that walking into this particular space was comforting. Going to this conference sparked a deeper appreciation of my Mexican culture by introducing me to other students who were able to retain a strong hold to their culture while attending private schools similar to my own.”
—Jose Orozco ’13
“The seminars were great, but it was the down time that truly made an impact on me. Being around students of color in independent schools from all over the country made me feel, for the first time, that my experiences, struggles, and triumphs were normal. I felt at ease and comfortable being myself. I still have friends from that weekend. That was almost 7 years ago!” —Alanah Joseph ’09
“The SDLC conference was my first experience with social justice outside of Marin Academy. It was the first time I had sat in rooms filled with hundreds of students who shared my passion to fight racism, and as an activist there is no moment more powerful, no sentiment that inspires action like that of not being alone. I have since continued my work in social justice, expanding into social media and blogging as a tool for change.”
—Juliana Britto-Schwartz ’09
“SDLC raised my own awareness about the importance and role that diversity plays in independent schools, I came into SDLC one man and left another. SDLC gave me the opportunity to discover what it truly meant to be a person of color and a sense of reassurance that my work in social justice is worth it. Their is something larger than just having social equality in our schools, SDLC allowed me to see that in order to change the world we must change the way to see it in order to fix it.”
—Alberto Flores ’13
Developing student leaders is one of the most important things we do at MA, and we have a lot of leaders—team captains, members of Peer Resources, publications editors, club officers, and others. Leadership is a complicated thing, as it requires an understanding of perspective, responsibility, and power. I am incredibly proud of our SDLC participants. It’s not an easy thing to leave home, miss classes, step away from the regular routine and dive into complex, powerful, and important issues. These four students—and the dozens that have attended since MA got involved in 1997—have made a commitment to helping enhance the experiences of our community members, and I am so grateful for that.