By Viraj Shankar
This year’s SDLR conference highlights the importance of continuing to hold conversations of topics of diversity and inclusivity here in the OES community.
In March, I had the opportunity to attend the Student Diversity Leadership Retreat (SDLR), hosted by Catlin Gabel. Organized by the Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS), the retreat offered several different affinity groups, as well as diversity workshops. These workshops served in the vested interest of expressing personal character qualities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, through lenses of artistic mediums. Block painting, dance exercises, and “Zine” creations, among others, were some of the incredible workshops offered.
Kiah Johnson Mounsey, from our Inclusion and Community Engagement Department, was largely responsible for organizing OES’s part in the conference. I sat down with her a few days ago to get an additional opinion on the goals, hopes, and experiences of the conference.
When asked on what the main goals of having conversations about student diversity, in her opinion, Kiah commented, “I’ve had the personal opportunity to attend the People of Color Conference, as well as the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. Those conferences, to me, were life-changing. I know the importance of supporting diversity, equity, and social justice. It matches our social mission here at OES. These conferences gave me an opportunity to be around folks that have had experiences similar to my own. I feel that is important, especially working in this setting of an independent school, to have an opportunity to be in a space with other people who understand and can relate to you on a different level. It’s also good for networking, as we can get ideas to bring back to the school community—whether that’s professionally or through the student body—in hopes of creating an environment where everyone feels welcome.”
Kiah, who feels that the conference was an overall success, stressed the importance of receiving feedback from the attendees, in order to know what worked well and what could be different. She added, “I hope they do provide feedback, that’s how conversations begin!”
Dori King, the Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement, commented on the SDLR experience, adding that people when people have the “opportunity to understand themselves and their identities in a deeper way it helps them to make sense of the world and understand the agency they have to be additive in the OES community and communities beyond OES.” She echoed Kiah’s comments and stated that fostering a sense of belonging is an integral part of creating a school where all students can thrive and prosper.
On a personal note, I felt that the conference provided me with a tremendous opportunity to delve deeper into some of the challenges that students can face being an ethnic, racial, or economic minority. Many of these students, I found, expressed frustration with the current systems that their schools enforced, including a few controversial topics, such as falsification of racial diversity in school promotion ads. Fostering these conversations are a central part of making progress in school systems, and this conference was an excellent way of shedding light on these issues, that most definitely need to be tackled across the country.