THS Students & Faculty Attend Student Diversity Leadership Conference in New Orleans
Before attending the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) this year, I had no idea what to expect. My friends who went last year hailed it as a life-changing experience, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to go. Leaving Tower Hill, my family, and my comfort zone, I entered the world of SDLC.
After a very early morning flight to New Orleans, our Tower Hill group (three teachers and six students) had the first afternoon free to explore the amazing city. We sampled the local cuisine that New Orleans is famous for and strolled down Bourbon Street where we encountered a myriad of different characters that were unique to only the magic of New Orleans.
The conference began early the next morning with a local jazz band and a welcoming address from well-acclaimed actor and activist, Sir Sidney Poitier. Over three thousand participants of the 2008 PoCC and SDLC gathered in the Louisiana Convention Center. I admit I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people that were there. However, once divided into smaller sections, my fellow peers soon became my family.
The Silent Movement was one of the very first activities we did. All 1250 students formed a gigantic circle while the leaders read statements focused on the broad categories used to define people. You were to step into the circle if the statement applied to you. Sometimes, only a few people walked out: those that were proud and brave enough to stand in front of 1250 other people and proclaim who they were, or what they were. I was shocked, though, to be part of such a large group in my identifiers. Surely there is something that differentiates me, I thought, but how can I define myself in this kind of setting? But is that who I really am? No. These core identifiers cannot get close to describing who I am. I am impulsive, optimistic, loud, motivated, and outgoing. What category does that go under?
This activity emphasized how easy it is to recognize and identify people based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status. However, I learned that it’s not accurate or fair to do this. For the rest of the conference, we worked to unravel and overcome these issues that box each of us in to misjudged stereotypes.
We learned about the Cycle of Oppression, where the basic fear of difference inside every person turns into stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination. On the final day, my Tower Hill classmates and I, joined with St. Andrew’s School and Sanford, discussed these perpetuating cycles with our teachers. We addressed diversity in our own schools and community, creating a deeper understanding for each other after creating our own activity for the teachers.
If I walked away from SDLC with anything it would be the knowledge that I am, just like every other person there, an integral part of the diversity movement. Rodney Glasgow and Liz Fernandez, the co-chairs of SDLC, will never know how many lives they have affected and changed through their shared dreams.
As it was time to board the plane we found standing in line in front of us County Executive Chris Coons and State Senator David Sokola. Mr. Coons, a graduate of Tower Hill, has a strong passion for diversity and was excited that our group of Hillers attended the conference.
My body was tired but my soul rejuvenated when I returned to Delaware. I encountered people very different from myself, with a diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives, yet I found a common connection with each one. The intangible feeling of warmth and support at SDLC is unexplainable, yet a feeling that I will always remember.
There are infinite ways to change the world, and I know we will as advocates of diversity use SDLC’s exceptional opportunity to achieve our overall goals. On the last day, our ‘family group’ leaders asked us to write down some final thoughts we wanted to share. My friend Ezra summed up perfectly what I had been feeling in my heart during those final few minutes together: “If you step off the road, you never know where your feet will carry you.”