On December 5th eight Field students and eight Field faculty members attended a three-day long conference, the Student Diversity Leadership and People of Color Conference, in Houston, Texas.
“Although life-changing sounds kind of cheesy, I have to admit, that really describes my experience at SDLC,” said 10th grader Maya Nagan. “I haven’t opened up to people like that in a really long time.” This sentiment was shared by the Field faculty and student attendees alike.
When the Field group first arrived in Houston on Wednesday night they registered for conferences and workshops, enjoyed a dinner at the Houston Downtown Aquarium, and prepared themselves for a busy few days. Each day of the conference started with breakfast at 7:00 am. On Thursday the 6th there was an opening ceremony which included dance performances by local Houston high schoolers and a welcome talk given by Helene Cooper, White House correspondent for The New York Times and best-selling author. Following the opening ceremony the 16 Field attendees scattered to attend various conferences.
“Throughout each day of the conference, we went to workshops created by faculty,” explained admissions counselor and biology teacher, Florence Sun. “There was a wide range of workshop topics that included things like, ‘Teaching Social Injustice and Inequality without Creating a Greater Racial Divide,’ ‘Supporting On-Campus Alliances: The Role of White Affinity Groups,’ ‘Identity Development through Literature,’ and many, many others. There were also options to attend presentations by keynote speakers, such as Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran and protester of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy; William Perez, researcher on academic access and achievement among immigrants and author of We ARE Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream; Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the ‘girl in the picture’ and founder of the Kim Foundation, which provides medical and psychological support to children who are victims of war; and Stephen Jones, CEO of Jones & Associates Consulting, Inc., a diversity and organizational change consulting firm. We also attended affinity group sessions separated accordingly by racial/ethnic identifiers, including international faculty, multiracial backgrounds, and transracial adoptees.”
For PoCC members, the day ended around 6:30 with a reception afterwards. SDLC ended at 10:00 pm on Thursday and 11:15 on Friday–very long days for the students who attended discussions and workshops in “Family Groups” as well as affinity groups. At night, our Field students and faculty met in a hotel room to debrief.
“I felt that it was a life-changing experience,” said 11th grader Gabe Colman. “It’s extremely hard to put my feelings, thoughts, and emotions into words but I’ll give it a shot. My favorite thing about the conference was how open and accepting everyone was. Even though I knew only eight out of the 1400 people, I felt a connection with all of them. I felt comfortable telling people I had never met some of my deepest thoughts and emotions.”
Tenth grader Gabrielle Horton agreed with Gabe, saying, “I think that SDLC was the greatest and most impacting event that I have ever been to in my life. Even though we were required to be ready to leave at 7 in the morning and returned to the hotel at 10:30 every night, followed by an hour long debrief, I would definitely attend the conference with no hesitation despite the grueling demands. I think that other students who attended the conference wouldagree with me when I say that the experience was indescribable and filled with love and support. I know that the event stands for Student Diversity Leadership Conference, but I truly believe that the conference was more about accepting each other for who we are than just discussing diversity. At the end of our journey everyone from all over the country had an unbreakable bond with each other. Everyone was supportive of one another and connected deeply with each other. There were many tears when everyone had to leave for good. I loved this trip and I’m definitely going back next year.”
“We think it’s important to send students and faculty to SDLC and PoCC, because Field has made a major commitment to multicultural competence and education, and these conferences help to fulfill that commitment,” remarked Academic Dean, Anne Foley. “Many students have returned from SDLC with a new outlook on their ability to make change in the community, and they are usually eager to share what they experienced with their peers. In addition, PoCC is a unique opportunity for our teachers of color, who work in a majority white school, to come together with people of color from independent schools all over the world. This affinity experience can be revitalizing for our teachers.”
On the last day, Saturday, student SDLC and faculty PoCC joined together first for an affinity session and then second in regional groups, where they met with not only each other, but also with students and faculty from other independent schools in the DC area. This last workshop was led by the students, where they arranged a “fishbowl” conversation setting, asking questions of everyone on topics ranging from how they view socioeconomics to gender roles at these DC schools. The conference ended with the closing ceremonies, which again featured performances by local Houston students and speaker, Baratunde Thurston, Digital Director for The Onion and author of How to Be Black.
“We all returned from Houston having made not only new friends from the experience,” Florence recalls, “but also with a deeper understanding of ourselves, our schools, and our own surrounding social environments.”