Earlier this month, six Crossroads students attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), held in Tampa, Florida, in conjunction with the People of Color Conference (POCC) attended by faculty, staff and administrators.
For the last 20 years or so, Crossroads Upper Schoolers have participated in the conference, which focuses on issues of equity and justice, self-reflecting, forming allies and building community.
“I’ve found over the years that I’ve been chaperoning the students that for them, the trip is quite transformative,” says English teacher Hya Young, who attended POCC.
Senior Dexter Summer, junior Melat Lulseged and sophomores Nelli Briceno, Robin Kim, Shannon Munn and Valentina Zivojinovic discussed their SDLC trip during a recent PEACE Club meeting. The multicultural group spoke of having similar cathartic experiences, which they will hold dearly.
Robin summed the conference up as “incredible and eye-opening.”
“For me it was a learning experience because I went in thinking it would just be about racism,” Valentina says, “but we learned so much about ageism, ableism, homophobia and more.”
Students spoke of the camaraderie they felt among the other students there from other parts of the country. Participants were divided into “family” groups of 50 to 60 people, and from there, smaller groups of about seven students.
Dexter said he appreciated the affinity groups that met at SDLC. “That was very exciting just to be there. To feel 100 percent accepted for every facet of my being was very nice,” he said.
“It was really good to be in a group of Latinos, who not only understood your struggle in just being a Latino, but also being a Latino in an independent or private school,” Nelli added. “I also had a really great connection with my family group.”’
Other students present during the PEACE Club meeting had gone to SDLC in years prior and shed light on their experiences.
Hearing moving stories from other students across the country was the most impactful part of SDLC for senior Alexa James-Cardenas.
“There was so much pain in the room,” she says. “Each and every person could feel each other’s pain. That’s empathy. That level of understanding you don’t normally get in real life. It just hit me that everyone somewhere is feeling pain. ... Let’s just try to get along on some level.”
Junior Evan Lott, who attended SDLC last year in Indianapolis, Indiana, said it was “undoubtedly the best four days of my life,” and that it changed his outlook.
“Before going to SDLC, I felt that my voice at Crossroads didn’t matter, but it does,” Evan said. “Even if it’s the smallest thing, it has a big impact.”
Many students expressed a desire to put into practice all that they absorbed during the four–day trip. They suggested creating a safe space on campus for students to have open dialogue about topics such as race, gender, religion and more.
Senior Jack Kennerly, the PEACE Club president who attended SDLC in Washington, D.C., says, “Understand on a deep level that the issues we’re talking about are very personal, and about as personal as anything can get. You can’t talk about them in clinical, mechanical terms. It has to be about the stories and the personal experiences.”
The students acknowledged that change starts from the inside out.
“In order to have a real effect on the students, I think there needs to be a foundation of wanting to learn or wanting to have an open mind,” Melat says.