Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016, …

Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016,

Hi. We probably haven’t met and have not yet really seen each other here at this combined conference of over 5000 people. I’m an educator attending the NAIS People of Color Conference.
https://mobile.twitter.com/MsFreeman_Rm210/status/806914626650771456

I’m writing to you because I’m wondering about your experience here in Atlanta. What has your conference meant to you? I wonder what you could tell me about the people you’ve met, the conversations you want to really remember, your best and even most challenging moments. I’m also thinking about how we are connected even without having met or exchanged a few words yet.

Student. Diversity. Leadership. Conference.

I’m particularly curious about those two words in the middle and how you bring them together with the first one in your day-to-day. Diversity leadership – what is your vision for what that can look like? What will you have to do, who will you need to be in order to engage your peers and others in your school and home communities in topics of diversity?

Here’s another thought: as an adult who is a teacher and parent, I’m asking because, honestly, I need some help. I believe that you know things, perceive things, understand things that I do not. Your take on events, on situations is not among the most likely ones that I will hear about, read about and therefore consider. That is a deficit.

And while we at both PoCC and SDLC gather here to take up questions regarding diversity practice, one of our ongoing challenges in every conversation is asking ourselves which perspectives are missing. Your presence here reminds me of my own lack of consideration of voices much younger than mine. What messages do I regularly fail to hear because I am simply not listening? Because it has hardly occurred to me to turn my ear in your direction?

I can fix this though. And I will.

I will also forget, mess up, fail. On multiple occasions. Because we all will in different ways, on varied levels – that belongs to the process of striving to do better, to become better.

I am writing this in the morning before we come together in our affinity groups and regional meetings. This will be my opportunity to practice what I am preaching here. I want to be prepared for your brilliance, accepting of your vulnerability, and rooting for your success. It is vitally important that you are here being you and applying all that that entails to the work we have before us.

Because, oh my, we do have much work ahead of us. I am preparing for your leadership.

Ready. Set. Go.

Thank you for being here and being you. You matter.

Sherri

3 thoughts on “Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016, …

  1. francesbell says:

    Thanks so much for this post Sherri. I hope you get some answers to your questions. The reasons that I liked the post so much was because it made me think about my many failures and a few successes. I only become aware of my failures in diversity when I can listen very carefully and observe very intently others’ experiences and how and why they might differ from mine. But this awareness is good since it might help me to avoid making things worse for PoC whose experiences I hadn’t had.
    One of the small successes I had in teaching Masters students who came from many different countries, faiths and cultures. One of the key learning points in what I was teaching was the importance of context implementing tech. So one of the activities i offered was to look at edtech in the superficially shared context of the course but start by telling each other about education in our countries – private/public, by gender, age, etc. We found that were significant differences within the class then we went on to look at countries not represented in the class and look at what education was like there. Of course, the differences were even greater. For me, the most important aspect was not my tiny act of leadership in setting it up but our combined ability to listen to who was there and think about who wasn’t there.

    • Dear Frances,
      Apologies for the time it took for me to return here and honor your thoughtful response. Thank you for reflecting here. I am so fully with you on this journey in getting diversity “right” or “better.” While I belong to marginalized groups on the one hand, I also enjoy a host of privileges which confer on me power and authority at different times and in different contexts. That means that I am in a position to marginalize or discount others and their experiences. And this process of ‘waking up’ is ongoing. Fact is, none of us gets a pass.
      Sharing the experience of listening to each other and thinking about who is missing with your students seems like a valuable antidote to falling into a variety of diversity pitfalls.

  2. francesbell says:

    Thanks Sherri – I don’t feel that I succeeded. more that we got a bit further, hopefully.

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