More than 450 students and educators descended on St. Andrew’s on Thursday for the area’s largest Diversity conference for independent school students – Diversity in the DMV.
This annual conference, which has grown from about 100 students in 2014 to an overflowing crowd in just four years, brought together attendees from 24 independent schools as well as Montgomery County Public Schools.
Will Lucas ’17 has been a facilitator since the first Diversity in the DMV in 2014 and said it’s come a long way since it started in the Lower Level Library.
“Now after four years, it’s in the biggest space we have in the school, and it’s just grown rapidly with lots of enthusiastic students,” Lucas said.
Ely Sibarium ’17, who also has been a facilitator since the conference began in 2014, said he was surprised to see how open-minded fellow attendees were to considering all sides of an issue, especially in today’s political climate.
“People are really embracing that and wanting to interact with people,” Sibarium said. “They’re genuinely interested in it, which is refreshing.”
The conference program, which ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., brought together attendees for a day of engagement, learning, networking, and planning to help impact their school’s efforts in diversity and inclusion. Students went through an experiential program aimed at various elements of diversity and identity, connecting with their own narratives and learning from their peers in other schools.
Maryam Abbasi, a freshman from The Potomac School in McLean, said sharing her identity at the conference made her feel proud of who she is.
“Showing people how you identify in such a supportive room makes you feel more confident,” Abbasi said. “The safe environment is really nice.”
Madison Johnson, a student facilitator and a senior at the Friends School of Baltimore, said she believes her conference experience will help her engage with her peers at their predominantly white school.
“Being open to listening to other opinions and perspectives will help you have conversations with people you disagree with,” Johnson said. “I think this will help me be a better facilitator, so my emotions won’t run over.”
Adult educators also experience a day-long program that mirrored the student work, but in an adult space, facilitated by members of the faculty of the National Diversity Practitioners Institute.
Candice Ashton, the assistant director of college counseling at Sandy Spring Friends School, said her conference experience has helped her learn ways to support her students as they seek to create change in their community.
“As adults, we want the students to see we’re not just here to chaperone, but to also take part in this, to show that we’re involved in this struggle as much as they are,” Ashton said. “They’re the center of the work we do, so we should be empowering them to create the community they want to be a part of.”
For Erika Outlaw, administrative assistant for community and diversity at Gilman School in Baltimore, the conference encouraged her to help her students see their potential to be activists.
“If we all have something we’re passionate about, and do something about it, we’ll see real change happen,” she said.
St. Andrew’s Head of Middle School Rodney Glasgow, who is the chair of the National Diversity Practitioners Institute as well as the founder of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, created diversity in the DMV. A noted speaker, trainer and facilitator in the areas of diversity, equity and social justice, Glasgow is nationally recognized as a leader in diversity work in independent schools. He earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and an M.A. from Columbia University. During his time as a student at Gilman School in Baltimore, he founded the Student Diversity Leadership Conference through the National Association of Independent Schools. He is currently the Chair of the conference, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Glasgow said he was touched to see students and teachers at the end of the day raising high hand-made signs, which declared the causes they believed in.
“These people are going to change the world, and the bigger it gets, the better it will be,” Glasgow said. “I love that schools have invested in kids this way.”