Early on a sunny April Sunday morning, 17 Canterbury students denied themselves a sleep-in, left unfinished their essays due on Monday, and unfolded laundry in the dryer, to ride on a toaster to St Luke’s Academy in New Canaan for the annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). The Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) organizes this annual event with 300 hundred students and their faculty advisors participating from private schools throughout Connecticut.
Out of the seventeen students who attended, four fifth formers – Jillian Carleton, Maliyah Perkins, Mary Bridget Horvath, and Vanessa Okoroanyanwu – served as facilitators for the break-out sessions, and will continue to be a leading force in promoting diversity at the conference and Canterbury next year.
In addition to the fifth form facilitators, Anna Imrie ‘20, Brigida Caruso ‘20, Chiara Vaccaro ‘20, Chigozie Dike ‘21, Erin Sudbey ‘20, Thomas Cho ‘21, Katherine Delamere ‘21, Selina Xin ‘19, Sean Quaye ‘21, Sherley Arias-Pimentel ‘19, and Sydney Desmarais ‘19 joined this year’s conference as participants.
This year’s SDLC let the students take on a more active role in the proceedings. For instance, instead of the adult leaders hosting the event, student MCs took charge of the procedure. And, replacing an adult as the Keynote speaker, three young women of color spoke to the crowd. SDLC is gravitating toward organizing future conferences that involve students in all of its organizational and administrative decisions.
The first keynote speaker spoke about colorism, a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color. She used the example of The Hate U Give, which is a book all sixth formers at Canterbury read a few months ago. She explained how the film, based on the book, marketed itself as a movie that represented African Americans; however, she argued, the cast reflects colorism – as the lead has very light skin.
The second speaker moved the audience with the real story of her stepping out of her comfort zone by joining an LGBTQ+ club at her school. The third speaker presented a spoken word poem combined with singing that called out racial oppression, which the audience found very compelling.
After the opening general assembly, students and faculty broke up into small sessions ranging from first-time students, returners, and seniors. For many first time students from Canterbury, it was an extremely educational and informative experience. Chiara Vaccaro ‘20 spoke about an activity that impressed her profoundly.
“We did this “identifier silent movement” where we all sat in a circle and one of our leaders would say “I identify as..” and then insert something like “white” or “gay” or “transgender” or something. And anyone who identified as that identifier would stand up for a couple of seconds in silence. We just observed and they sat back down.
“I like that because when you look at someone you don’t realize all the things they identify as. You don’t look at someone and just know they are gay, or you don’t look at someone and know they only have one parent, or they are international students or something. It’s just interesting to see how people have all these things we don’t see on the outside and that we shouldn’t judge each other,” she added.
The senior session talked extensively about bringing issues of diversity into college and the issue of self-care. The group had the honor of skyping with a professor at American University, Omekonga Dibinga. A spoken word poet and rapper himself, he gave a performance of one of his poems. He then discussed the importance of self-care while in the process of promoting diversity and defending one another.
As the annual SDLC concluded, the impact of this event continues to empower young high school students. All participants learned more about social issues and will continue to spread awareness wherever they can, including throughout the world.