By, SDLC and PoCC Participants
Every year, six juniors get the chance to go to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, better known as SDLC. The conference is a multicultural and multiracial gathering for high school students both from the U.S. and abroad. SDLC allows students to connect with others with similar racial and cultural backgrounds, thus allowing each student to explore their own identity. SDLC is most often remembered fondly and as an experience that would not be traded. The conference this year, in Nashville Tennessee, was no different. Each year, faculty also travel with the students, but attend a slightly different conference. The People of Color Conference, also known as PoCC is a diversity conference tied with SDLC for school faculty members. Three students share and one teacher share their reflections below.
Danya D.-C. ’20: Going into SDLC, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Of course, everyone had told me that it was a trip I would remember for the rest of my life, and admittedly they were right. SDLC provided me with invaluable language to discuss systemic oppression and personal narratives about identity I had never heard before. At the same time, though, the types of activities we did felt familiar. They were very much reminiscent of the programs I participate in through my Jewish community outside of school. Although the information was new, the set-up was strikingly similar. In saying that I was familiar with the types of programs we did at SDLC, I do not in any way mean to say that they were anything short of phenomenal. They were absolutely amazing. Yet, understanding the similarities between SDLC and other programs I’ve participated in helped me recognize Winsor’s lack of the very activities that make such programs so memorable: engaging workshops that use personal experience as a starting point for learning.
When we come to school, we are often asked to forego our individual identities. We are here to learn, here as students. We are not necessarily here to share the specific details of our lives, at least not in a classroom setting. Although I understand how it can be difficult to incorporate personal narratives or glimpses of the “real world” into curricula, doing so is crucial. Such stories define who we are and inform how we interact with the world around us. Rather than ignoring students’ individual backgrounds, experiences, and identities, we must encourage them as both a vessel for learning and a way of supporting our students. We must also diversify such narratives so as to represent all students. Ultimately, if I learned anything at SDLC, it’s that we must not only share our own truths, but also celebrate everyone else’s.
Brianna F. ’20: The first thing that comes to mind when I think of SDLC is love. I know saying that SDLC taught me love may seem like a stretch, but all who went with me would know what I mean. 1700 students from all around the country, were challenged to receive and to tolerate views that were potentially different from their own. We were even encouraged to “pass the peace,” hug and greet people, from the moment the first assembly began. We were taught to acknowledge the eight aspects of a person’s identity and love them wholly for who they are. While in my family group, I could never explain the amount of comfort and respect I felt for and from people who were strangers to me. They created an environment where I was unapologetically and boldly able to be my entire self. I never expected to find so much space in my heart for people who I only knew for two days. I can admit that I adore everyone I met and am so grateful for the stories they shared with me. However, I do feel closer to these people who I met at SDLC than I do to people who I have been at Winsor with for many years. This is something that I hope to change.
Crystal Y. ’20: When I first heard of SDLC, I thought it was essentially an all-expenses-paid, school-sponsored vacation. While now I know better, I definitely applied on a whim and didn’t expect much to come of it. Even when I was boarding the plane, I scoffed, “How could an event lasting two days at most be life-changing?” Now, I’d argue that, in my case, SDLC wasn’t life-changing; it was life-saving. No words I say would ever do it justice—my experience there was unbelievable from start to finish. I have never felt so understood, especially in the East-Asian affinity group. Our discussions ricocheted from the model minority myth to the Harvard affirmative action lawsuit to colorism to divisions between the Asian community itself to beauty standards to our role as both allies and POC with struggles of our own to much, much more. On our first day in the larger Asian affinity group, we went around in small groups and competed to see which group could come up with a list of songs that most fully represented Asia’s diversity, and then played the songs aloud. Regardless of whether we knew the song—or even the language the song was in—we were all laughing and dancing and celebrating our cultures together. Coming at a time in my life where I felt directionless and unmotivated, SDLC truly helped to spark a passion for change in me, and I feel it has bettered me for the good. I strongly urge anyone even slightly considering applying to do so—really, the only way to truly do SDLC justice is to experience it yourself.
The three students share their overall thoughts: SDLC as a whole was an incredibly eye-opening experience. For many of us, it was the first time we had been in rooms where we were in the majority, and that feeling is both empowering and indescribable. For some reason, the unique environment that SDLC provided us—both loving and temporary—allowed us to share things we’d never shared with people elsewhere. Because everyone was so supportive and accepting, we didn’t need to worry about judgement as we do in our lives elsewhere, and because we knew we–sadly–wouldn’t see many of the people we met here again, we didn’t feel scared to share anything. All of us, in all the groups that we were in–family, home, affinity, and regional–managed to create a culture of trust so quickly, which is hard to find elsewhere.
Additionally, all of the speakers that we had were incredible—from Lisa Ling at the opening ceremony telling stories of her journalistic ventures around the world to Marc Lamont Hill rousing the crowd into action after being fired from CNN for stating “Free Palestine,” every speaker instilled a sense of awe and passion in each of us. We left the assembly each time with a desire to do better, to do more, for ourselves and the communities around us.
It’s hard to summarize just how life-changing SDLC was for each of us. Even within just the six of us students, no two people could have the same experience. Almost three days dedicated to exploring our identities and the identities of the people around us creates a bond unlike any other—and really, the only way to experience that bond yourself is to go to SDLC.
Ms. Q.: This year was the first time I attended the POC conference. I was very impressed with the keynote speakers, Lisa Ling and Marc Lamont Hill, because of their strong influence in the media as well as their life experiences fighting personally and reporting on issues of injustice and racism.
I was also very appreciative to be in the Asian and Pacific Islanders Affinity Group, and be able to share my experience with others who have similar experiences to me. We shared with each other our deepest “scars” that still painful to us after many years. For example: a man in my group shared about his experience growing in a predominantly White community. Being the only Asian student in his school, he was often mocked by other White kids who pulled their eyes upward and called him “Chink.” He was confused on why they would do that, because he has big eyes, and his family was from the Philippine, not China.
I shared about my personal experience attending a predominantly White school in Boston one year after emigrating from China. The White boy whose locker was on the left side of mine often called me some weird names that I didn’t recognized at that point with my poor English knowledge. So I often smiled back at him and said, “Hi.” One afternoon, he angrily called me “Chinese Pig” for no reason. Since I understood those two words, I realized that he was being mean to me. I sadly told a teacher in school about this incident. And I was not sure what then happened, but I haven’t see that boy since. Maybe he was expelled from school from bullying, maybe his family moved to another school district, maybe… maybe… One thing I learned from this experience is that if you hold everything inside and do not let it go, then, firstly, no one will know your struggle and be able to support you; and, secondly, this burden of pain inside will only increase overtime, and you will live unhappily as a result. So I learned that when facing injustice, you should find your courage within yourself and voice your concerns with people who love you.
I came back from POCC feeling energized and informed. I am energized by the encouragement I got from other colleagues of color. I am also very pleased to be informed that there are conferences in the New England area for Asian colleagues and students to come together and support each other. Most of the conversations around racism in America is often about Black and White binary; Asians have few voices in the big screen media. The contributions of Chinese immigrants to American society are often diminished and rarely talked about in American history classes. So, I am incorporating that into my Class IV curriculum. My goal is for my students to have a deeper understanding of the life of Chinese immigrants in American history, and possibly to propose awareness campaigns to address challenges in local Asian communities.
Mr. S.: Race in America is frequently talked about as a black-white dichotomy. Ever since I entered the independent school world, I have wondered where Asian Americans fit into conversations about race because this exclusion is often prevalent at elite institutions where Asian Americans are often not even considered people of color. I think now is more pertinent than ever to empower Asian American voices to speak up about their experiences as marginalized communities because all too often our stories are co-opted by vested interests to perpetuate false narratives. Like the ever prevalent model minority myth and more recently the Harvard lawsuit around affirmative action, our stories are weaponized and used as a wedge to further divide and oppress other minorities. The challenge that the Asian American community faces is bringing a collective voice to the table when the Asian American diaspora contains so many different countries and cultures and backgrounds. How do we bring together a voice that is authentic to the vast experiences we have yet still empowers the disparate communities it represents?