In November 2021, six Marlborough students attended the four-day National Association of Independent Schools Student Diversity Leadership Conference to participate in various conversations that build skills necessary to produce diversity within their own communities. The main message of the conference? To emphasize the worldwide experience of students from marginalized communities in independent schools.
As specified by the SDLC’s website, the conference is “led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators…Participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts and learn foundations of allyship and networking principles.”
Dean of Social Justice and Community Partnerships Pamela Wright was first introduced to the SDLC by a student. Upon attending a parallel SDLC seminar for teachers, Wright felt as though the inclusiveness and sense of belonging she felt really changed her outlook on both her community and identity.
“It was really affirming not to have to code-switch with everyone… I mean, there was a whole affinity group for Latinos who passed as white, and that is me. There was a whole affinity group for people just like me,” Wright said.
Last year, the opportunity to attend the SLDC coincided with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic; consequently, the conference was held online. After receiving feedback from the students, the faculty realized many of the students had difficulty connecting with each other at the remote conference.
“[A lot of the students were] like, “Yeah, it was great, but I was in my room the entire time,” Wright said.
Several schools received similar feedback, and in hopes of providing the students with a more communal experience, Marlborough worked with several local Los Angeles independent schools to host their own, smaller in-person event. Schools such as Harvard-Westlake, Crossroads, Viewpoint, Brentwood and Campbell Hall brought their students together to attend the SDLC at the Hilton hotel. While still attending the conference remotely, students were given the opportunity to socialize and communicate with one another.
In order to both provide a larger, communal experience as well as a more personalized one, participants had the opportunity to zoom into both big groups as well as smaller workshops. For instance, Ayla ‘23, an attendee of the conference, attended an affinity group for people of color in independent schools.
“It was interesting to see how… there are such universal experiences for people of color in independent schools regardless of what state you’re in,” Ayla said.
To many of the students, the SDLC provided a space and a sense of belonging.
“As a woman of color, or just as a woman in general, you are often told to be less loud,” Ayla said. “One thing I learned from the conference was that it’s okay to take up space, because the world needs to hear your truth.”