By Camila Ryder
In December 2020 and December 2021, two groups of Prep students attended the three-day Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools. The conference centers on providing educational resources, instilling a sense of belonging, and providing support for high school student leaders across the country who want to extend their advocacy. SDLC provides a unique opportunity for students of color to engage with their peers, build community around shared experiences, and hone effective cross-cultural communication skills and strategies that they can bring back to their schools.
“At SDLC, you’re with people who are just like you. They’re in the same boat as you, and they know exactly what you’re talking about—you don’t have to explain yourself,” shares Chase Sullivan ’22, one of the 2020 Prep SDLC leaders. “Sometimes, you feel like you’re the only one going through certain things, and then you go to this conference and realize that that feeling is of being a minority at a predominantly white institution. It makes you feel validated.”
Sullivan attended the 2020 conference over Zoom alongside Ian Hunte ’22, Nadya LaMarr ’22, Aaron Lee ’22, and Gya Rodríguez ’23. The 2021 SDLC attendees were Halia Benn ’24, Kyrmina Habashy ’24, Advait Kartik ’24, Lauren Lopez ’24, Cameron Paxton ’24, and Hailey Wilson ’24.
“You really feel at home,” says Benn, who was a 2021 SDLC peer facilitator. “I was in the African American/Black affinity group, and we talked about predominantly white institutions, how we feel in those spaces, and if we feel at home in them or comfortable. We had such similar experiences, and I’ve actually never felt more seen or heard.”
Already leaders within and outside of the Prep community, the students who attend SDLC are committed to having an impact at Prep. Their experiences at the conference help them shape this impact and sharpen their leadership skills.
“We all want to bring back our education to the school. In my peer facilitation at SDLC, I learned that listening is so important. It’s about listening to people who have different experiences, different backgrounds, and different needs,” Benn says. Benn is also a cofounder of BKWC (Black Kids Who Care), alongside William Bigby ’24, a group formed outside of Prep that shares educational resources and spotlights the perspectives of Black teens.
As a senior, Sullivan has infused what she’s learned from the 2020 SDLC conference into other leadership roles, including captain of both varsity volleyball and track and field, a Peer Counselor and a Senior Leader in English classes, and a captain on the Athletic Council on Leadership (ACL). She also has taken the initiative for causes that matter even if she won’t get to experience the benefits of her work directly—an essential lesson in leadership that points
to the impact of our student leaders and SDLC. In fact, Sullivan was one of the 2020 SDLC attendees who proposed creating a student leadership organization led by SDLC attendees, which is currently being implemented by the school.
“Having a Black girl be in leadership positions...that, in and of itself, is my own way of stepping up,” Sullivan says. “If you want something done, you have to be willing to do it and voice it in a way that people will be willing to receive it and in a way that gets your point across.”
Assistant Head for Student Life Barrett Jamison notes that Prep is committed to sending student delegations to SDLC every year.
“We are investing time and resources in these students to send them to this conference because they are passionate about questions related to identity. We want this investment to impact both the students attending the conference and all the other students back home at Prep,” he says.
The student leadership organization, led by SDLC attendees, currently being developed will join the Big 4 leadership organizations of Student Senate, ACL, the Student Community Action Council (SCAC), and FLINT. Additionally, the 2020 and 2021 conference attendees collaborated on a presentation for the school’s Student Life Committee that was shared on February 23, 2022, as this magazine went to press. The group’s presentation centered on inclusivity, identity, education, and advocacy through community outreach.
Math teacher Maddie Martin and School Counselor Kiara Best, SDLC faculty advisors, facilitated the students’ on-campus experience during the 2021 conference, holding rest-and-digest sessions each day. Martin has been an SDLC advisor for two years and is currently guiding SDLC attendees in their continued work.
Once the group’s mission statement and goals are decided, the group will launch in April and students can apply to be members for the 2022-2023 school year.
In the minds of the SDLC participants, inclusivity and diversity are equally important values. As Benn puts it, “We should not fear diversity. It’s a very important and sensitive topic, but we’re the team that’s here to help with that. People are counting on us to work out how we may be inclusive of everybody. There is a way to work things out so that everybody feels included... If you’re interested and you feel like you have something to contribute, definitely apply.”