SDLC: A Community Centered on Leadership, Identity, and Equality

Social identity is a much more complicated concept than it may seem. This subset of one’s identity is comprised of a variety of impactful social identifiers including socioeconomic status, level of ability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and age. These eight categories may appear to be insignificant on their own, but the different expressions of one or more of these identifiers have caused the existence of inequality due to the prevalence of privilege, an obdurate, pervasive consequence of human society.

As it has been since the dawn of humankind, humanity has dealt with the social inequality of privilege or the idea that certain groups are awarded with advantages compared to other groups in society. These advantages are often tacit realities that people are just meant to accept, however, in light of recent events some privileges and social inequalities have become too dangerous ignore.

In order to learn more about privilege, identity, and leadership against oppression, eight members of the St. Luke’s student body and faculty traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana for the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). This conference aimed to educate an inclusive group of high school students and teachers with focuses on several tenets of social justice, such as allyship, awareness, and equality. Moreover, students who went on this trip have consistently remarked that the experience shattered all their expectations by creating a community assembled out of former strangers.

SDLC’s unity was born out of its honesty as topics that are often taboo in regular society such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. These pressing issues are spoken of openly so that all participants can speak freely of the issue, despite their backgrounds or opinions. In order to have these conversations, students and teachers alike were expected to follow twelve, specific guidelines to express their opinions and stories:

  1. Be fully present.
  2. Speak from the “I” perspective.
  3. Be self-responsible and self-challenging.
  4. Listen, listen, listen, and process.
  5. Lean into discomfort.
  6. Experiment with new behaviors in order to expand your range of response.
  7. Take risks, be raggedy, make some mistakes – then let go.
  8. Accept conflict and its resolution as a necessary catalyst for learning.
  9. Be comfortable with silence.
  10. Be crisp; say what’s core.
  11. Treat the candidness of others as a gift; honor confidentiality.
  12. Suspend judgment of yourself and of others.

With these norms in mind, dialogue was facilitated through several interesting and creative activities. One of the most notable of activities was a game where approximately seventy people were arranged in a line and asked questions related to their societal privilege such as “have you ever inherited land” or “have you ever felt unjustly judged by the police”. Depending on one’s answer to each question, they would then move forward or backward corresponding to one’s opportunities. At the end of the game, the participants were instructed to sprint towards the wall opposite to where they had started with the first five people to touch the wall being those most favored by society and statistically the most likely to succeed. This game is representative of the disparity of privilege throughout society.

Another way that SDLC was able to provide a welcoming environment for people to speak of their differences was through affinity groups. The affinity groups divided the conference into several categories based on whichever aspect on the participant’s race, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, or religion each person identified the with deepest. The events occurring within these groups ranged from insightful conversations on immigration to a dance party to Elvis Crespo’s Suavemente.

Elizabeth Guillen ’15 shared that her Hispanic affinity group taught her that too often detrimental stereotypes are just blindly accepted, such as the idea that all Hispanics in America are Mexican. Her affinity group displayed this stereotype’s erroneousness and the damages it causes by erasing the visibility on Hispanics from other countries by having each person pick up a flag representing the Hispanic heritage they identified with the most significantly. She remarks that only around 6 to 10 people in the entire group held Mexican flags.  Overall, these affinity groups provided people with something that they may not have back home: an open and honest community for identities to be recognized and celebrated.

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The flag activity

The community building aspect was taken even further when everyone from conference reconvened concurrently. In these moments of togetherness, some of the most persistent and relevant issues faced by America throughout history and today were discussed. In one of the conference’s highlights, Cheryl Brown Henderson, whose father advocated for the upheaval of racial segregation in the education system during the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, spoke at the conference.  Moments like this reminded those who attended of the civil rights progress that has been made and how much work still needs to be done until racial equality can be achieved in the United States.

Other powerful moments included the many demonstrations relating the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and others. Despite the many different races being represented at the conferences, this issue remained one of the most powerful due to its undeniable tragedy and significance.  The solidarity demonstrated by the entire conference during these emotionally charged moments reinforced a crucial theme of SDLC: an ideal community recognizes that happiness cannot be reserved for one branch of society and equality must be actively pursued by all people.

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The hands up don’t shoot demonstration

Whether it was a safe space to talk about one’s previously criticized sexuality or opportunity to learn how to be a more productive and dependable ally, SDLC Indianapolis changed the lives of almost everyone involved in some way. The lucky members of the St. Luke’s community who were able to contribute in this life changing experience are now dedicated to bringing the lessons they learned about social justice and leadership to our own community.

— Colette Juran, Staff Writer 

Posted by on December 16, 2014. Filed under School News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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