Last month, a group of Upper School students and faculty members joined fourteen other independent schools across the southeast to attend the 2021 Virtual Low Country Student Diversity Conference, an initiative to bring students together for leadership training, professional development, and networking. Now in its second year, the conference is annually hosted by Savannah Country Day School to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). For attendees, it was a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of DEI work and discover ways to offer their own contributions.  

“It was our second year in a row of sending students and faculty to engage in this timely, meaningful work that aligns with our commitment to being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community,” said Director of Student Affairs Carrie Singh. “Additionally, because we want to foster a culture at our School that affirms all students and allows for all students to feel a sense of belonging, this kind of opportunity gives us the chance both to practice the skills we need to be agents of change, such as civil discourse, and to connect with students from other backgrounds and communities and hear about others’ experiences. Exploring complicated topics with a diverse community offers a richness that is immeasurably important.”

A major goal of the conference was to create ninth through twelfth grade leaders who will be catalysts for change in the areas of social justice and equity on their campuses. After listening to speakers in themed workshops, students divided into cohort groups (several facilitated by Ashley Hall faculty members) to share their own perspectives. “Having the opportunity to interact with other students concerning issues of social justice and equity influenced my experience by seeing and listening to what their points of view were while we listened to the workshops,” said Nadiyah McGill ’22. “I appreciated how there were people of all races who cared to learn about DEI and wanted to make a difference. I hope this conference influences others that there are many people in the same age group as us who are actually educated on the social and diverse problems we have in the world.”

Another impactful element was the chance for students to participate in self-identified affinity groups. “I participated in the Latinx heritage affinity group and spoke with three other girls with a Latinx heritage,” noted Ellerbe Mendez ’23. “We had honest and meaningful conversations about our experiences and discussed some poetry that the leader of our group showed us. It was the most helpful and meaningful part of the diversity conference because we were able to share personal experiences that we all related to and understood. It is not often that I have a supportive space to talk about the topics we were learning about that day with people who truly related to me.” 

Afterward, students agreed that the day-long experience was valuable in allowing them to broaden their knowledge and collaborate with their peers on important DEI issues. For many, the experience also inspired future goals. “The conference influenced my understanding of the history of racism, the importance of diversity and representation, and the harm that generalizing a group of people can cause,” emphasized Mendez. “This experience left me more eager to be conscientious of how I can work towards more equity and diversity in my day to day life.”