A Utopia: Reflections from the Student Diversity Leadership Conference

Cristian Rivera, `16
Cristian Rivera, `16

By: Cristian Rivera, `16

I never knew before this SDLC how close you can become with a person, how much you can learn, and how inspired you can get in just two short days. I went into this conference as one of a small population of freshman not knowing what to expect. I only had the ideas of friends that had previously gone. Not until now do I understand what they where talking about.  Now I understand that it’s hard to assess diversity until you meet someone from each of the seven main identities of diversity and hear their stories and that you can truly understand it.

The seven identifiers are race, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, ability, and gender. Within my group, there were many people from each of the identifiers that opened my eyes to reality.  For me, the most inspiring moments came from the poetry recited at the talent show. One poem in particular, named “Oreo Cookie”, was truly inspiring. The poem’s main theme was the idea of how society perceives “blackness” through one’s actions when that is simply not true.  Those who are uneducated on the topic of diversity and those who are ignorant may perceive black as acting “ghetto”. Many black participants have had their “black” identities questioned as a result of attending an independent school. Being “black” is not something you can lose. Being “black” is a rich culture filled with oppression and is something deeply embedded within a person, which cannot be taken away.

Later, I attended the Hispanic affinity group where a student shared a story about his fellow classmate, who was called a fake Puerto Rican because he drives a jaguar to school and owns a vacation house in Puerto Rico. This statement really bothered me. Since when does wealth take away your identity? Last time I checked, being Puerto Rican doesn’t require financial struggles and other types of hardship. To me, this is an example of pure ignorance. Being poor doesn’t make you Hispanic just like being ghetto doesn’t make you black, or being rich and well educated doesn’t make you white. These thoughts in society are why conferences like POCC and SDLC exist in the first place: to get rid of the these negative stereotypes and to abolish these untrue, offensive labels.

Another thing that amazed me about SDLC was the openness and how accepting everyone was. For example, during the closing ceremonies Rodney, the head of the conference for the students, invited people to talk about their experiences at SDLC. One girl walked up to the microphone and came out for the first time announcing that she is bi-sexual.  She announced this in front of 1,500 students even before telling her own mother.

The environment that SDLC creates is amazing. Students can entrust 1,500 strangers with a secret and give them confidence to embrace their difference that makes up their identity, a beautiful thing. This is the environment that the world should strive to replicate: a place where everyone is accepted and everyone is welcome and feels comfortable. Hopefully through education, one can only hope that the whole world can be a place like SDLC.

A Utopia: Reflections from the Student Diversity Leadership Conference

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