Earlier this month, six students and six faculty members attended the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Nashville, Tenn. The conference gathers multiracial, multicultural upper school student leaders from more than 300 independent schools in the U.S. with a goal of, “self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community.”
At the conference, students learn networking principles and strategies and work in large group sessions and SDLC “family groups” that allow for dialogue and encourage conversation and sharing. The Berkshire contingent’s first seminar was a peer facilitator training where students were taken through exercises designed to introduce the topics that would be covered at the conference through a range of programming. Much of the conference work was based on the eight cultural identifiers: age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, race-ethnicity, ability, religion, gender, and family structure.
“Our students are leaders and that is why they were chosen to attend this year's conference,” said Dean of Diversity and Inclusion LeRhonda Greats. “Having the opportunity to be in a space with other leaders is bound to make them even stronger. They were able to see students who look like them, go to schools like Berkshire, and are in environments where they are also the minority, all the while still thriving and leading.”
During the conference’s family group sessions, up to eight students per group support the facilitator with the setup, execution, and debriefing of the curricular pieces. “Those skills are brought to campus by our students, engaging the community in activities around diversity and inclusion topics throughout the rest of their Berkshire careers,” explained Associate Dean of Students and one of the group’s chaperone’s, Kristina Splawn.
“Our hope is that students will have time to do the activities they did during regional meetings with different groups back on campus--perhaps the administrative team, trustees, prefects, dorms, etc.,” said Splawn
Aimi Sekeguchi ‘20 from Japan, already has plans for bringing what she learned at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference back to Berkshire: “I hope to create an Asian & Asian-American affinity club that can become a safe space for students of Asian heritage to discuss the issues that they cannot find an opportunity to share with the entire community,” she said.
“The personal experiences shared by other students at the conference that are a minority in many ways, such as race, socio-economic status, religion, gender identity, and sexuality, were very severe and unexpected,” Sekeguchi continued. “The SDLC has left me more open-minded and accepting of the diversity that I may not even realize exists.”