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FCS Students Attend SDLC

By Sophia David (Editor-in-Chief ‘21)

This past week six FCS students, Lili Bidlo, Soonae Shuler, Sophie O’Beirne, Taylor Snowden, Blayre Walters, and Julia Beyer, participated in the annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). This conference brought together over 2000 students, of all different identities, from across the country. Participants were split into family groups of about fifty people; three larger neighborhood groups; and affinity groups, either racial or LGBTQ+. Three students, Lili (‘22), Soonae (‘22), and Sophie (‘22), all discussed their experiences at SDLC this year.

Soonae explained the reason she wanted to attend SDLC: “I heard a lot about this conference during my past years being at Friends. I heard a lot of good things about being able to speak your truth, getting a better understanding from other minorities, and seeing people become vulnerable. I thought it would be a good learning experience.” Sophie, too, wanted to gain a better understanding of the experiences of minority groups other than her own: “I am one of the leaders of ASA, and I wanted to be able to help with the diversity at our school and on a larger scale too. This year we want to work with BSF, and I was hoping this would be a good way to think about building bridges between different affinity groups.”

Lili, Soonae, and Sophie all shared something important they learned or took from

SDLC. Although she has always believed in the importance of affinity groups, Lili said that SDLC really solidified for her just how important they are. She connected this to our own FCS community: “I think it's a good thing Friends’ Central is making it required, whether people like that or not.” She noted that “being in the LGBTQ+ affinity group, I am especially thankful to be in a place like Friends’ Central, where people are accepting of my bisexuality. I think that I have a place of privilege compared to a lot of people at the conference, who do not have safe spaces at home to be open. Several people at the conference even said, ‘I am really grateful for this space because I don’t have a supportive family at home.’” However, even in “the Friends’ Central community there are definitely people that don’t have a safe space at home. Sometimes school can be an escape for people.”

But could requiring affinity groups make them less of a safe space, if not all participants truly want to be there? Lili addressed this point, saying, “A lot of people refrain from joining affinity groups because it's not built into the schedule or they don’t want to be associated with that. I know that a lot of people have internalized homophobia and whatnot. I do think that [requiring affinity groups] will be helpful to the people who really need affinity groups because they won’t be such an outlier for missing community block to go to a meeting. It helps these people be hidden in plain sight.”

Soonae said that at SDLC “I refound my voice and the ability to speak my truth. Coming to FCS,” she explained, “I lost it because I was trying to protect everyone else's innocence.” She elaborated on this, saying, “Before, I went to a majority black public school.” Referencing the acts of racism that have occured over the past couple of years, she said, “no one expects for something like that. I was just so surprised at what was going on that I kind of lost my voice. I felt like ‘what would my voice do to change this pattern and history that has been here for a long time?’. Also considering my age, I felt like, even if my voice was heard, it wouldn’t be taken into consideration.” She said that whether or not she is able to keep her voice “really depends on the future. If I feel again like my voice is not being heard, then I will feel useless again. I think it is all about the steps that are taken after racist incidents like the past ones. I feel like as long as everything flows and goes as it should, I will continue to speak my truth.”

Sophie recalled a specific discussion in her SDLC Asian affinity group that has helped her to think more deeply about internalized racism: “A lot of internalized racism goes back to your family. Some of the discrimination and stereotypes we hold onto are passed down through generations. It is kind of hard to see the cycle and break out of that. Recognizing where these issues are stemming from can help you realize how to fix them.” She detailed one way to help put a stop to internalized racism in a specific situation, with which we are likely all familiar. “A way of coping that a lot of people can probably relate to is making jokes about yourself, maybe about being Asian. This can be a normal thing that helps you bond with other people. When you say it to someone who is Asian, they get it, it's a joke. However, when you say it to someone who is not Asian, it can negatively impact the community because some people feel like if they hear a joke, then they are allowed to make that joke. You think to call out the people who aren’t Asian who make these jokes, but it's also important to call out the people who are Asian and make these jokes.”

Lili, Soonae, and Sophie all believe that the conference helped to improve their

understanding of the perspectives of identity groups other than their own, particularly Middleeastern and Native American groups, who are underrepresented in our own community. Soonae made an important distinction about being exposed to new perspectives saying, “I can always hear what they are saying, but I cannot always feel what they are saying.” On this topic, Lili said that she has learned “it's important to speak up for others when they cannot speak, but it's important not to speak over those people when they can speak.”

Usually held in a different place each year, this year the conference took place, for the first time, over Zoom. Naturally this has created challenges. Sophie explained, “I think it's harder to have serious conversations over Zoom. It feels less personal because everytime you talk it’s to a big group.” Soonae shared a similar sentiment: “ In person you can have side conversations and get peoples’ Instagrams or Snaps. Over Zoom you don’t know who is next to you. I feel like it's less conversational and more formal.” Lili added that on Zoom, “You don’t get to be in that person-to-person space, and be like ‘wow this is 2000 people in front of me.’”

Although the interviewees agreed that the conference probably would have been even better in person, they recognized some benefits of Zoom, such as an active chat for people who did not want to unmute and speak and better control over raising hands, which prevented participants from speaking over each other. Overall, Soonae said, “Even virtually, I feel like I can share the same learning experience as others who have gone in past years.”

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