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Student Diversity Leadership Conference attendees reflect on experience

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

For the past 23 years, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools, has given student-leaders the opportunity to connect with and learn from other students from across the country interested in topics of race, gender, inclusion, and diversity.

NAIS-member schools each have the opportunity to send a limited number of students to the conference that is held annually in December. This year, Breck sponsored six students, the maximum allowed by NAIS, to experience this transformative conference.

“The goal of the conference is sharing information and strategies to reclaim space and focus,” says Memry Roessler, Upper School English instructor and Multicultural Education coordinator. “It’s a three-day immersion and tries to teach students into thinking differently with the aspiration that they’ll come back as leaders.”

Breck students who have attended in the past have come back ready to lead chapels or discussion groups on diversity and inclusion. For others, it can take years to fully process the experience and feel ready to lead change. But for all of them, the conference provides an opportunity for networking and connections.

“It’s a thrill to meet other students who are like them, have exchanges with them, listen to how other schools grapple with issues,” says Roessler.

For two students who attended this year, SDLC gave them the opportunity to explore issues they weren’t as comfortable talking about previously.

“For a lot of students, I don’t think we know enough about issues going on,” says Tre’Allen Warner ’18. “When we go to SDLC, we get to share our ideas with the world and we also get to hear other people’s opinions on it, challenge our thinking and reflect on it.”

The conference tackles hot-button topics like race, gender, and sexuality, allowing open discussion and the opportunity to connect with others who may identify with a particular segment of the population. This allows students to better understand their own opinions and create arguments based on those opinions.

“For me, I learned a lot about sexuality [and how] to be an advocate for the LGBT community.,” says Ayanna Platt ’18. “I didn’t know much about it and we were all kind of lost. Going to the conference, it was laid down for everybody and we understood more.”

Last week, students who attended SDLC over the past two years shared their experiences during the annual Student Voices event, which is hosted by the Multicultural Committee from the Parents Association. In addition to this event, these students are also leading morning discussion groups, with the latest happening Thursday on the topic of gun control.

“We talk about gun control, pregnancy, Colin Kaepernick,” ways Warner. “We talk about the controversial issues in the news at the time so that way we have this safe space to have these important conversations and share our thoughts.”

Having this safe space is not only important to the students, but also to the culture of Breck.

“The students have to cross talk and negotiate difference and learn how to navigate between conflicting claims of truth,” says Roessler. “That’s what we try to do at school just in general, not just across race, class, or gender. We try to teach students how to talk about these prickly subjects with people who are all over the map on their beliefs because they all come at it from different positions.”

“For me, I have become more open to talking about things that are harder to discuss and I’m just more open about it,” says Platt.

Warner has already found an outlet for advocacy through his work as a spoken word performer. He also hopes to be more active when he gets to college.

“I want to be able to participate in on-campus activism,” Warner adds. “Very often in the issues going on, there are things I feel affected. Through SDLC, I want to be an ally for other identities, trans rights, etc.”

It is this spirit of understanding and advocacy that is the hope for all students at Breck and is shared in the mission statement, too.

“Breck is in existence for the students and to make them change agents. We hope to give them civic courage and social consciousness,” says Roessler. “The multicultural education at Breck aspires to have students become conscious of the world which they inhabit, and – in their own sphere of influence – be able to make changes when they see them necessary.”

This year's attendees included Seyade Tadele, Terrina White, Tre'Allen Warner, Ayanna Platt, and Sydney Powell.

The Student Diversity Leadership Conference is held annually in conjunction with the People of Color Conference, also hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools. You can learn more about the conferences here.