Opportunities for Connection, Improvement Among Key Takeaways for SDLC Attendees

Six Upper School students traveled to San Antonio, Texas, with Mr. Willie Teacher and Ms. Amanda Esteves-Kraus to attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which ran in concurrence with the NAIS People of Color Conference, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. The theme of this year’s conference was We The People: Leveraging Our Community to Preserve Our Humanity.

“After meeting what really feels like thousands of people, I am inspired to bring to Hackley the exposure and refreshing perspectives that SDLC has provided for me,” shared Hailey Won ’25. “I am thankful for the opportunities that Hackley has given me to meet such people, but I am even more thankful to be able to spread the word about what I learned during the conference. I want us to be able to establish our community norms the way SDLC could, after one morning of speeches.”

Arjan Sandhu ’23 noted that he was thankful for the opportunity to meet new people and have meaningful discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and “for the community we have right here at Hackley. Listening to the experiences of other students and their communities across the country really made me feel thankful for the diverse, supportive, and progressive environment of my own community. In a way, I was grateful for not being able to resonate with some other students when they talk about how there’s nobody else with a similar racial or ethnic identity as them back at home, for being welcomed into a community is still somewhat of a privilege.”

When asked to give advice to a peer who is thinking of attending the SDLC conference next year, Zora Blu’ Teacher ’25 encouraged future attendees “to not be shy and try to meet new people. This conference was a fun opportunity to see so many different kinds of people that you usually wouldn’t see at school. My advice would be to take advantage of that and try to make connections with as many people as possible. The conference is so short, and there are so many amazing people for you to meet, so just put yourself out there and start talking to people.”

Garshanae Simpson ’24 echoed those sentiments: “My advice would be to jump right in from the start and begin to open up and talk to people. You’ll really enjoy the experience so much more if you come ready to share and discuss right from the beginning. It took me a day to adjust, and I now wish I had an extra day there, because toward the end is when I really began to enjoy the experience of talking to and meeting new people. The SDLC conference is a safe space to be yourself and to embrace being yourself so the space will be filled with so much love and self-love, the best thing you can do is walk in ready to accept all of it and you’ll have a very enriching experience.”

Sofia Malhas ’24 noted her surprise at “the number of people who were willing to devote their time and effort to be a part of the team. Over 7,600 people were registered for the conference, including 1,600 students. Everyone was extremely committed to improving their schools, spending almost 14 hours daily fully engaged and ready to have conversations. Every day was packed with a lot of information and a lot of people. The SDLC was a safe space and I am very grateful that I was able to go and meet so many interesting people.”

According to NAIS, “The NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the United States and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC “family groups” and “home groups” allow for dialogue and sharing in smaller units.”