A few weeks ago, from November 28 to December 1, 6 WT high-school students and several members of the school faculty attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) and the People of Color Conference (POCC) in Nashville, Tennessee. These two conferences work together to find solutions to inequality and injustice in independent schools all around the United States, SDLC working with students, and POCC working with adults. Working with the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS), SDLC and POCC fight issues and educate over 60,000 students and teachers alike.
Winchester Thurston has attended this conference for over 10 years, with our head of equity and inclusion, Ms. Diane Nichols, being a volunteer and leader for SDLC. Her work at the conference and at Winchester have inspired many people to fight against prejudice and make a difference in their community. Members of the WT student body who fought alongside her this year included: myself (Tatiana Barelli ‘20), Benjamin Gutschow ‘21, Jingqi (Rose) Li ‘21, Felix Bhattacharya ‘21, Mirisa Alfonso-Wells ‘19, and Mo Moeslein ‘19. Speaking for myself and the other students in attendance of SDLC, SDLC was a life changing opportunity where students could be their true-selves and experience unity and harmony in their identities.
Now you may ask, what is SDLC? SDLC is a group of over sixteen hundred students and faculty working together in a safe space to study and explore issues of social justice in independent schools all around the country. SDLC brings in speakers and leaders from around the US to share their life experiences with students in attendance. This year executive producer and host of This is Life on CNN Lisa Ling was the opening speaker for both SDLC and POCC. Not only did she explain the injustice she experienced being an Asian woman reporter, but she also shared stories from different people all around the world. Her work allows her to travel and examine different cultures and that is what she brought to the table for us to learn about. The next and final speaker for WT students, since we had to leave before the closing ceremony to make our plane, was Christian Picciolini. Mr. Picciolini is a former member of a violent extremist movement he helped organize in Chicago, Illinois, but now he works to rebuild his life by helping others overcome hate and by speaking out against hate movements. Mr. Picciolini shared his story with students in attendance of the conference, encouraging us to make a difference one person at a time, just like he does.
SDLC is also a place where people of all different religions, races, cultures, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, social economic statuses, and family structures come together to share their views on the world. It is an inclusive society built up of “family groups” and “affinity groups” that allow students to share their experiences in a closed space. As someone who is normally scared to express my true identity, SDLC was a life changing moment for me. I was able to be who I wanted to be without being scared of judgement or negativity from outside points of view. The ability to be accepting of someone else’s identity is something that everyone must learn in order for the world to obtain the peace we are striving for. Therefore students will continue to fight for justice in our communities and learn from experiences they obtained at SDLC.
Coming back from this conference, students from Winchester began to wonder what they could do to apply the changes they learned into the WT community. We had just spent two fifteen hour days at conferences learning about how to make an impact in the community. The members of SDLC, along with students on WT’s Equity and Inclusion council are working to share our knowledge with students in the MLK day on along with presenting our knowledge to administrators and teachers in activities like what we experienced. We hope to share how students feel and how what is happening around our community is affecting us.
SDLC was a life changing experience, and I encourage as many people as possible to attend in the future. It’s a place where you feel accepted and you understand the struggles of the world while also fighting them with new knowledge. As Max De Pree once said, “We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” I ask that all of you continue to ask and learn about these discussion we had in Nashville this year so that one day we can obtain the peace we are striving for.