Students attend the 2022 SDLC, from left: Yahaira Nunez-Hernandez, Ana Yáñez, Domonique Megginson,Yaris MontesDeOca-Desiderio, Neela Okurut, and Abby Alem.

Students Pledge to Build Community After Attending National Conference

Sometimes getting away from campus to visit with others about topics you are passionate about is all it takes to renew optimism and commit to helping bring about sustained change. Six Colorado Academy Upper School students had the opportunity to do just that when they attended this year’s Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). Juniors Domonique Megginson, Yaris MontesDeOca-Desiderio, Yahaira Nunez-Hernandez, and Neela Okurut, and Seniors Abby Alem and Ana Yáñez spent time in December meeting with fellow students from independent schools throughout the country. SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of high school student leaders focused on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. It is organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and this year’s theme was “We The People: Leveraging Our Community to Preserve Our Humanity.”

According to Interim Director of Inclusivity Collinus Newsome, who has served as one of the co-chairs of the SDLC for more than a decade, the annual conference is designed to inspire those who are pushing their school communities forward in the critical work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

“When young people walk into the conference and see so many students of color who are concerned about the same things they are,” explains Newsome, “it’s empowering like nothing else.”

While Newsome notes that diversity leaders around the country have faced increasing pushback in recent years from groups who oppose DEI efforts in schools, she salutes NAIS for shielding SDLC participants from these forces. “Today, we are doing this work in an environment that can be hostile at times,” she says. “But NAIS did an amazing job making all of us feel safe. It was magical, particularly for the students.”

Yáñez shares, “Attending SDLC was an experience I will forever be grateful for. Being in a space where you are constantly affirmed and validated makes sharing and learning that much easier. While I was there, I was reminded that there are so many of us who are making changes in our communities, and that there were plenty of people who came before us whom we have to thank for our being here. The ability to be vulnerable and to grow together is something you don’t expect to be able to do with strangers from across the world, but happens year after year at SDLC.”

SDLC also gives students confidence to return to their home schools and work with others to build community. 

Reflecting on her own experience, MontesDeOca-Desiderio says, “In order to make a difference in CA’s inclusivity, there has to be some sort of vulnerability and acknowledgment that there has to be greater action taken for the betterment of diversity at CA. I hope people at CA stay open minded about things that might be new or out of the ordinary to them. Part of being a community means being open to hearing about new experiences and different points of view that might be completely different than what they have experienced.” 

She’s hoping to work closely with CA administrators to have honest and open conversations about the state of inclusivity at CA.

Yáñez says she wishes all CA students knew more about the conference and the work it represents. “The time is now to start learning and taking action. There are plenty of people doing the work already, but without all of us, we cannot truly move forward. It’s time to start looking inwards at biases and misconceptions we might hold about one another, and learn to listen to those who need help the most. You might feel uncomfortable or unready, but you can’t grow without that discomfort.”

All six who attended the conference are part of CA’s Faces of Diversity club, which works within the Upper School to build inclusivity. They’re already putting into practice some of the ideas and approaches learned at SDLC.

CA administrators, teachers, and staff also attended the conference, including Head of School Dr. Mike Davis, Enrollment and Financial Aid Manager and Upper School Service Learning Coordinator Lisa Dean, Assistant Athletic Director Jon Hill, Associate Athletic Trainer Rory Grady, Lower School art teacher Angela Hottinger, and Strategic Recruitment & Community Engagement Officer Miriah Royal.