This is an excerpt from an article written by senior and Editor-in-Chief, Natalie Dosmond, for the King Street Chronicle.
Six Sacred Heart Greenwich Upper School students participated in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Online Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) from November 30 to December 4. These students, seniors Destini-Joy (DJ) Green and Sasha Rivera, junior Leah Allen and Kayla Malcolm-Joseph, and sophomores Kristin Morrow and Joseph Orr, spent the week engaging in group sessions and discussions with student leaders from across the country. The conference focused on teaching the participants to self-reflect, build allies, and form a community.
This year marked the 27th annual SDLC and although it was virtual, over 1500 students of different backgrounds were still able to come together to broach topics such as race and ethnicity, colorism, the cycle of oppression, gender identity, sexuality, and the impact of socioeconomic status. Participating students developed cross-cultural communication skills, designed effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learned the foundation of allyship and networking principles, according to pocc.nais.org...
“My favorite parts of the conference were definitely the affinity groups and simply getting to meet new people,” Sasha said... These groups were meant to be safe spaces for people to express their shared experiences and relate to each other. In these spaces I didn’t feel like I had to justify or over-explain my feelings because everyone already understood––I was part of the majority. I had never been in a setting with so many people who looked like me and I didn’t understand the true value of simply being surrounded by people who looked like me until now.”
Dr. William Mottolese, Upper School English Teacher and Chair of the English Department, highlights how the SDLC allows for Sacred Heart students to share their experiences with other teenagers who attend similar schools.
“The SLDC gets our students outside of our small school community to connect with other young people from independent schools who share similar backgrounds and identities,” Dr. Mottolese said. “Also, by hearing other students talk about their experiences, our students gain a vocabulary for expressing who they are and talking about their own experiences with classmates, administrators, and teachers.”
“My favorite part of the conference was getting to meet new people from all around the country who were all willing to take time out of their busy lives to learn,” Kayla said. “It was great to hear their perspectives, and to see what they’re doing in their schools to make a difference. It also didn’t take very long for me to open up to them because the NAIS and the students created such a safe and loving environment."...
“Students are learning strategies for being diversity leaders on campus, for helping others talk about issues of identity, racism, homophobia, inclusive language, and so forth,” Dr. Mottolese said. “The idea is to continue building community in the spirit of Goal Four.”
Sasha found that the experience of connecting with peers with similar backgrounds and identities, but also with diverse perspective and ideas, was the most valuable part of the four-day conference for her.
“The most valuable thing I learned from the conference was that I am not alone,” Sasha said. “One thing I remember hearing during an activity in one of the affinity groups was, ‘You don’t have to represent your entire race.’ As someone who often feels like I do, this was extremely comforting.”