In early December, I had the pleasure of attending the National Association for Independent School’s(NAIS) diversity conference for students, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference(SDLC), with five other Poly students and two adult chaperones. The conference was three days long and was held in San Antonio, Texas. This year’s theme was “Reunited in purpose: elevating our worth, our agency, and our excellence.”
We kicked off the event with featured speakers, then swiftly transitioned to student-only groups. The first activity we did was similar to an ice-breaker exercise. All the students, about 800 people, sat in one room together and a conference leader would read out different statements that related to various aspects of identity. If the statement applied to you, you would stand up. For example, some statements were similar to “I identify as a cis-gendered female,” “I belong to a single-parent family,” or “I speak multiple languages.” Also, we were not allowed to talk. The exercise went into extreme depth and therefore took a long time, but I learned so much about the demographics of our SDLC group in a really efficient way. For the first time in my life, I was in a room where I was not the minority. The vast majority of the people who attended the conference were people of color and the entire Poly cohort was comprised of people of color. I realized that if we did this exercise at Poly, I would have been one of very few or even the only person who stood up for a lot of the statements. But at SDLC, I could stand up and look around at many people who shared the same struggles or identities as me.
There are no words to describe how comforting this felt. I thought it was a very wise way to begin the conference. Afterward, I felt a level of comfort I’d never felt before because I knew the people who surrounded me had experienced the same things I had or at least empathized with something similar. The rest of the conference consisted of breaking into even smaller family, home, and affinity groups and having conversations surrounding race, gender, sexuality, age, socio-economic status, family structure, religion, and other aspects of identity. Within my home group of about 40 students, no two people came from the same school and I met people from all around the world. In particular, I became very close friends with a girl from a boarding school in China. I highly valued discussing issues with people from such vastly different backgrounds because everyone had their own opinions based on their varying identities. As someone who lives in the very progressive Los Angeles, California, it was interesting to hear about homophobia from students who lived in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Furthermore, some of my favorite conversations happened in the Asian affinity group. Again, though we all shared a race, we were all extremely different in many ways. I feel like this conference helped me realize the privilege I have and all the struggles people go through on a daily basis. For example, I met people who were the only Asian student in their entire school and people who had never seen so many Asians before(there were about 70 of us in the affinity group).
Overall, the conference was a very intense, yet insightful few days. The experience of being able to connect with students from all around the world was invaluable and I will cherish it forever.