Student Diversity Leadership Conference: Participant Reflections

students at podiumDuring General Homeroom this week, Cora Laborde ’25, Amelia Pace ’25, Savannah Ramdass ’26, and Ana Rizvi ’26 presented their reflections on attending the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in St Louis, MO, between November 29 and December 2, 2023. They joined over 8,000 participants at the annual event — a multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders from eligible independent high schools across the U.S. and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community.

“Our days were packed with activities and meetings,” explained Ramdass. “We were at the conference by 7:30 a.m. and didn’t return to the hotel until about 11 p.m. daily. For me, one special aspect of the conference was the affinity and family groups, which gathered based on a core identity, like race or sexuality. Within these groups, we discussed the challenges and joys of those identities.”

Educators and students jointly attend the conference. Student attendees gain powerful insight into their sense of identity, and they return to their communities with renewed energy and potential to lead their communities in supporting diversity and inclusion.

“Leadership is essential in bringing equity and justice to our society,” said Laborde. “Being a leader takes courage, passion, and a sense of community. We all have the capacity to right an injustice, but our leadership can be the key to maximizing the success of our diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice missions.”

The presenters explained that understanding is achieved through both education and conservation. To truly understand others, we must face our lack of knowledge of others and actively engage in discussions around culture, political interests, and varied experiences.

Pace explained, “We must not listen in order to respond, but listen in order to understand others. We are all interconnected, and even if we don’t think an issue affects us personally, everything has a ripple effect.”

Rizvi then explained that there is harmony between the Holy Child Goals and the essential work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ). Goal 4 emphasizes Cornelia Connelly’s phrase, “Actions, not words.” It requires tangible, proactive work to foster a just and inclusive community. Goal 5 underscores creating a learning climate rooted in trust and reverence for the dignity of each student. 

“At Oak Knoll, diversity is acknowledged and celebrated,” said Rizvi, “We hope to nurture an environment where every person’s individuality is not only respected but embraced. Both of these Holy Child Goals urge action, inspiring a commitment to principles of justice and dedication to forming an inclusive community. Students have the power to cause change by actively reinforcing these goals.”

To close, the students shared biographical information about several keynote speakers and the recording of an inspiring poem recited at the conference by Dr. Omekongo Dibinga. They invited the rest of the Upper School to attend a Community Dialogue Night on March 6, and to participate in lunch and learns and cultural clubs throughout the year, as well as participate in the MLK Day of Service each year. 

Through their participation in the SDLC and their thoughtful presentation and reflection to their peers, these four students are shining examples of how Oak Knoll students lead by example.

photo of phil ryanstudent holding award