Students Dive into Diversity

Serena Young, Co-Editor/ Director of Advertising

When DEI, Diversity Equity Inclusion, is mentioned, most people’s minds jump to skin color and gender. But when LHP sent out an email for high school students to apply to be student representatives for a Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in San Antonio, Texas, I jumped at the opportunity. After a blind application, I was one of the six students selected out of 125 applicants. The six of us would embark on a journey along with 1,600 other students from over 10 countries to the 29th annual SDLC

We arrived at the optional peer facilitator training a day prior to the three day event. We were greeted by a speaker brandishing neon nails, heels boldly clacking on the floor, and a native African garment coloring the space around him as he told us to sit down and have a conversation with a stranger, “Who you feel called towards.” After not making much eye contact with anyone, I heard a wholesome voice say, “Hey!” I turned and laughed when I saw her, as if we were already good friends. We sat down and without any notable reason, I felt safe. We confided in each other about living in a culture of in-between, with me being both Chinese and American and her being half African American and half Barbadian. The air shimmered golden, as we were finally being seen. 

Day one started in a large ballroom as the facilitators explained how they would move through eight categories of core identifiers: race, gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities, socio-economic status, family structure, and religion. When a part of a student’s identity was mentioned in that category, they would stand up. The facilitator implored, “Notice those who are standing and those who are not. Note the significance. Please be seated.” The entire exercise was silent except the rustle of clothes and turning of heads. Sometimes the majority stood up, other times only one or two stood. It was incredible to visually break stereotypes and barriers, to recognize the utter diversity present in the room, and to play witness to the stories of strangers without ever having to say a word.

The rest of the event continued with a variety of amazing speakers from Amanda Nguyen, who helped draft the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights and was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, to Mariana Atencio, the only Latina national correspondent on NBC News and winner of the Peabody Award, the highest honor in journalism. Students were split into family groups of around 50 teens and the following days focused on each of the core identifiers. We journaled, completed small group exercises, discussed, drew bubble maps, made narrative comic strips, shared, and sparkled as we grew. 

Personally, my biggest breakthrough happened within the affinity groups. I chose to attend the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) affinity group, anticipating how I would automatically connect with everyone there. But when I walked into a large ballroom with the most Asian Americans I’ve ever seen, I felt dismayed. After a lifetime of being the minority, I was suddenly in a space where that individuality was taken away from me. I wasn’t any more Asian than the Chinese American girl on the left, and I wasn’t any more American than the Korean American boy on the right. Some girls looked and dressed like K-pop idols, while some donned the stereotypical glasses and stared at their feet. Some guys were athletic and loud, while others were fumbling and quiet. There were blondes and redheads, curly hair and straight hair, Christians and atheists, short and tall, calluses from basketball and math competitions alike. I was bombarded with a wide diversity within this minority of Asians. There seemed to be a piece of every culture within the addition of us, and yet, Asian was what linked us together. 

I let my walls down. Sitting in a circle on the carpeted floor, hearing the abundance of fears, goals, dreams, and conflicts we all have in common, everything clicked into place. Just like my first day here, glittering, I felt seen. I traded stories of wanting to have a “glowing tan” in the West but being called “too dark” in the East. We all gushed about different Asian foods, someone shouting, “Ramen!” and being met with a wave of cheers from around the room. Everyone found solace in dealing with the pressures of college and traded stories of everything from tiger moms to cultural expectations. I looked around and saw an overflowing hotpot of Asianness and found myself proud to be Asian.

The plane ride back was quieter than the one a few nights ago, everyone tired but extremely content. The night before, the six of us had decided we had been a part of something magical, something we wanted to bring back to LHP and share. As the sun set, the clouds shimmered, and the sky turned gold.

(Above) Kylie Kiefer, grade 10; Garrett Duncan, grade 12; Ms. Crystal Raphael, Director of DEI; Emily Meffe, grade 11; Tochi Oniya, grade 11; Serena Young, grade 11 and Milani Thakkar, grade 11; discuss future plans for more LHP diversity after the life-changing three day event. They enjoyed 16-hour long days full of speakers, exercises, and discussions prompting them to drastically shift how they think about themselves and others. “We won’t hide behind words when there’s action to be taken,” said Amanda Nguyen, their speaker on the first day. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Belem Shimp. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Belem Shimp. )
(Above) Day One started off by setting up the accepting and authentic atmosphere which would come to define the event. There were 1,600 students in a ballroom learning how to speak from the “I” perspective and how to be comfortable with silence. Photo by Serena Young. (Photo by Serena Young. )
(Above) After being separated into groups of 50 students in a, “Family group,” students formed their own, “Home groups” as a sharing hub during each exercise. Serena Young, grade 11, especially enjoyed the contest to see which home group could come up with the most obscure simiarites. Photo courtesy of a SDLC student participant. (Photo courtesy of a SDLC student participant. )
(Above) The LHP DEI crew was lucky enough to witness San Antonio’s renowned River Walk, and watch it twinkle at night during the holiday season. After a delicious Mexican dinner on a chilly night by the water, bonding as a group, the eight of them migrated back to the hotel for well deserved rest. Photo by Serena Young. ( Photo by Serena Young. )