A group of Severn students recently attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the United States and abroad.
The four-day conference, themed “We the People: Leveraging Our Community to Preserve Our Humanity”, was held in San Antonio, TX in early December and drew an estimated 1800 student leaders from independent schools. Severn’s student contingent included: Rohan Lakhanpal ’23, Kijana Lloyd ’23, Iwinosa Ede-Osifo ’25, Zahria Grimes ’24, and Nyela Djossou ’24 and Rong Fan ’23.
In order to be selected as a conference attendee, students were required to submit an application explaining why they were interested in attending, what they hoped to learn, and what they would like to bring back to Severn from the experience.
This annual conference focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. SDLC is led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, and conference attendees develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. Students participated in large group sessions as well as “family” and “home” groups that are designed to allow for meaningful dialogue and sharing in smaller units.
Lloyd, a senior who is headed to Bryant University after graduation, was motivated to apply because it represented an opportunity to speak with like-minded individuals from around the country about diversity and inclusion in schools. “I’m most interested in conversations, even tough ones,” he said. For him, the best part of the conference turned out to be just that – having meaningful conversations on racism and belonging.
Grimes, a junior and one of the leaders of the Black Student Alliance (BSA), viewed the conference as an opportunity to build her network and become directly involved in DEI efforts. “I want to learn more about what I can do as a student and a person of color to help not just my peers in my community, but also have an even further influence,” she said.
Also a BSA leader, Dsossou echoed that sentiment. “Attending SDLC represents an opportunity to gain the tools and knowledge to be that voice for the students in my community and others as well.”
Lakhanpal appreciated the activities that were focused on cross-cultural communication skills and ways to better interact with peers. The best part of SDLC for him was the friendships he formed. “I learned so much from the other students there, and I will hold onto the connections I made there for as long as I can,” he said.
The students – all leaders of various clubs and organizations at Severn -- are now looking at ways to share what they learned with the greater school community. “It’s about creating the right sense of belonging for all students of color,” said Lloyd. “A sense of belonging in, not belonging to. That’s what I think I can bring back to the Severn community.”
Highlights from the conference included the PoCC Opening Ceremony, which featured keynote speaker Amanda Nguyen, founder and CEO of Rise, a nongovernmental civil rights organization; opportunities for dialogue within family, regional and affinity groups; and a Talent Show, among others.
The SDLC was run in conjunction with the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC), the flagship of the NAIS’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools.
The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is a nonprofit membership association that provides services to more than 2,000 schools and associations of schools in the United States and abroad, including more than 1,600 nonprofit, private K-12 schools in the US.