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Park Tudor News

Reflections on the Student Diversity Leadership Conference

By Zawadi Kigamwa ‘21

SDLC Conference Student Photo

Upper School students Zawadi Kigamwa, Imaan Mirza, Kara Clouse, Lee Fisher, Zhandi Kabunga, and Trinitie Terrell at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Seattle.

In December, a group of Park Tudor students attended the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Seattle. These students joined the PT faculty and staff members who attended the coinciding People of Color Conference. The SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders from across the U.S. and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community.

Junior Zawadi Kigamwa attended SDLC and shares her experiences in the following article.

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Gilded in the minds of many Americans is the “New Colossus” by Emma Lazurus, the poem embossed upon the plaque below the Statue of Liberty written in 1883 to raise money for a pedestal. It speaks of the hopes and dreams of many immigrants passing through Ellis Island in the early 1900s. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

On day one of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, I had the privilege to listen to Dr. Joy Degruy. Degruy shared a brief history of the Statue of Liberty while tackling the issue of visibility of blackness in America.

Exactly 18 years earlier, the Statue of Liberty was built not only to be a beacon of hope for immigrants but also was sculpted to commemorate the liberation of black Americans. Fredrick August Bertali, a French sculptor, after the Civil War in 1865 initially placed a broken shackle and chain in the left hand of Lady Liberty. This was changed later to tablets inscribed with the date, July 4, 1776. The chains that were formerly in Lady Liberty’s hands are now lying near her feet, mostly invisible to visitors.

Visibility and awareness were big ideas that were confronted at SDLC, given the conference is crafted for students from predominantly white private schools. More nuanced than only race relations, there was a focus on the diversity and intersectional identities represented at the conference. Whereas many students in my small group spoke about feelings of invisibility and being minorities at their homogenous private schools, it was accepted and asserted among the students that SDLC was a safe and unapologetic environment where many perspectives could be heard.

Not only were we able to vocalize our perspectives in large open forums held at the beginning and end of the conference, but we were also able to learn about the valuable differences that made us a diverse community in small groups that would meet for the majority of the day. A large part of understanding our differences came in discussing intersectionality and cognitive dissonance. Intersectionality is “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups,” as defined by senior Imaan Mirza, a fellow student who attended the conference.

As defined by Degruy, philosophically cognitive dissonance is “withholding two contradictory ideas usually imposed by societal norms.” In the context of social identity, cognitive dissonance is an experience, event, or moment that challenges the normality of core identifiers including race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, gender, age, ability, or other elements of culture and identity.

Leaving SDLC and coming back to school I felt a responsibility to implicate my cohorts and classmates in social awareness as a necessity. For the benefit and acceptance of all races, religions, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, gender, age, and ability, change must be mobilized through conferences like SDLC which shine a light upon social identities.