The Importance of Off-Campus Conferences

by Lauren Menjivar ‘18 and Grace Darko ‘18

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Every year, a number of our St. Mark’s students attend off-campus conferences to learn and discuss topics and issues surrounding diversity with other students from independent schools. Unfortunately, most of the students here do not know about any of these conferences that former and current students have attended due to lack of interest or exposure. I’m here to tell you that these conferences do exist, and they are worth attending. The four main conferences that St. Markers attend are the the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), AISNE (Association of Independent School in New England) Student of Color Conference, White Privilege Conference, and Unconference. These conferences provide safe, open spaces where students from across the nation meet others to exchange thoughts, ideas, and paths to solutions on issues that schools face today. Although students who attend the conferences tend to be vocal about improving their schools’ approach on difficult issues such as race, gender, and socioeconomics, you could attend one of them to learn about something you never knew before.

Each conference has a different focus on current social issues. For the White Privilege Conference, students examine what privilege and oppression are, and they work together to create solutions to make the world more “equitable.” Each year, 1,500 people attend this conference from different states and countries. Secondly, the AISNE conference is oriented towards supporting students of color and working on diversity education. Last fall came the addition of the Un-Conference, an event that is run by the attendees, who get to decide the topics that will be discussed. Anyone who wants to create a meeting space and time for a certain topic are open to do so.

Lastly, there is SDLC, one of the biggest multicultural and multiracial conferences in the U.S. It is highly competitive to get into, for only six students from each member school can attend. The conference provides a safe space for discussion and teaches students to “self-reflect, form allies, and build a community.” Students learn to listen to one another and communicate effectively with others from different backgrounds and perspectives. Some students also take on a role as peer facilitators who lead small group discussions amongst students. Applying is highly recommended, as it is a worthwhile experience.

These conferences are great ways to create connections with other students and learn about topics that are not typically discussed in school but that apply to our everyday lives. Anyone is welcome to attend any of these conferences– contrary to popular belief, it’s not for a specific “type” of person. Get off campus and go to one of these conferences. It will open your eyes to something you didn’t know before.