6 students chosen for youth DEI conference

Six+students+will+attend+the+National+Association+of+Independent+Schools+Student+Diversity+Leadership+Conference+online+Nov.+30+to+Dec.+3.

Malcolm Taylor

Six students will attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference online Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.

Clare O'Connor, Assistant Editor

Six students have been selected to attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference: Mariama Jalloh, Donovan Miller, Santana Romero, Katie Sasamoto-Kurisu, Willow Stern and Katie Williams. The conference is centered on youth diversity, equity and inclusion empowerment and will take place virtually from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.

“The conference definitely promoted leadership, but in a different way than I’m used to,” said Brent Pennington, who attended the virtual conference last year. “The conference promoted leadership in the sense that it allowed us to gain skills and also gain ideas from other kids about ways that they have been promoting diversity in their communities.”

Senior Sid Shah also attended the 2020 conference. Sid said that his week at the conference improved his understanding of DEI issues and provided him with a sense of community during the pandemic.

“I had only been online at Lab. Last year, my junior year, was my first year at Lab. Before that, I had been in North Carolina where there was really no one else like me, culturally, so it was nice to connect with other people of a similar heritage,” Sid said.

The conference definitely promoted leadership, but in a different way than I’m used to.”

— Brent Pennington

Affinity groups are the center of the conference. Each attendee joins an “affinity group” that corresponds to an aspect of their identity. In these group sessions, peers with a shared racial or ethnic identity are given unregulated time to converse and build connections.

“The groups create a really intimate setting,” Sid said. “We spent so much time together, I learned about their struggles and what they’re doing to improve their schools and communities.”

Each conference day consists of learning activities and affinity group sessions. Throughout the day there are also more social-based activities like a book club, an “LGBT social hour,” group exercise sessions and cooking lessons.

“What I really appreciated was that the learning sessions were less of a lecture and more of a conversation,” Sid said. “That group was totally random so you got a wide range of perspectives that added a lot to the conversation.”

Brent echoed Sid’s comments on the workshops’ diversity, mentioning that even students who shared aspects of his identity approached discussions from wildly different perspectives.

“There was one workshop that was just about understanding what racism was and when the counselor asked us ‘What is racism to you,’ literally every single individual in that room had a different opinion of what racism was,” Brent said. “Some people thought it was a system, some people thought it was a term, some people thought it was an idea. All of those ideas were wrapped into one workshop that lasts for maybe two hours.”