Attending The NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference


Sarah Compel

Gulliver’s representatives for SDLC. (From left to right: Gaëlle Timmer, Sydney Spence, Mrs. Sarah Compel, Dennis Obsaint, Luiz Gandelman, Neelesh Pandey)

Luiz Gandelman, Campus Voices Contributor

This past December I had the privilege of attending the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference in San Antonio, Texas. I went as one of five students from our school, and as one of close to 2000 participants. DEI work holds a special place in my heart, so when I was given the opportunity to attend SDLC, I took advantage of it and went. We flew to San Antonio alongside over a dozen Gulliver teachers and faculty who would be attending the POCC, or People of Color Conference, NAIS’ event for faculty and staff adjacent to SDLC. Despite traveling with Gulliver faculty, staff, and administration, and even though SDLC is facilitated by a team of adult leaders from across the country, the vast majority of the days were spent working and collaborating directly with participants from other schools.

The event itself was slightly overwhelming at first. The first exercise involved sitting next to people you don’t know and starting up a conversation, meaning I had to bid a temporary farewell to the other Gulliver Students present. I sat down next to two people I did not know, and instantly began to talk to them. We began talking about grades and school, as well as why we were at SDLC. These small conversations were so effective that I still talk to these people today. Next we were placed in “family groups”, essentially randomly assigned groups of people from various schools. My group had members from all over the country, contributing to the medley of perspectives the group had to offer.

I developed good relationships with my group mates, and created connections I cherish deeply. Most importantly, however, I learned a lot. We spent hours discussing various ideas, from identity to discrimination, to diversity and more. I learned valuable information about different identities, as well as how different identities mix and interact, things that even I, as someone who is involved in diversity work, did not know. In these exercises I learned more about myself as well, and I was given room to express my ideas. A moment that stood out for me was in a spectrum discussion on discrimination. I stood alone in the “bigots should not have a voice” side of the room. A few other people justified their positions, and then I was given a turn to speak. After I went on a tangent based on lived personal experience, the room switched. Suddenly everyone came either to the middle or my side of the room. That moment showed me the power of connecting to people and expressing yourself, and it made me proud and empowered. Another impactful exercise was when we were tasked with designing a school where all disabilities were accounted for in a way that everyone could attend the school regardless of if they have a disability or not. We spent hours designing said hypothetical school, implementing solutions like ramps and braille, as well as elevators and closed captioning. No matter how many things each group had said, there were always more items to be added and accounted for. This eye-opening exercise showed that while it is possible to consider ways to help others, these are things that individuals with lived-through experiences can contribute to best.

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SDLC provided me with a space to learn and grow, while also giving me the ability to reflect on myself, my experiences, and the countless ideas presented.

— Luiz Gandelman

Another group we spent time with was our affinity group. These groups covered a wide range of identities, from Latino to LGBTQ, and from transracially adopted individuals to SWANA. I personally attended the Jewish affinity group, which was actually the first of its kind in SDLC history. As I walked in the room, I saw a few familiar faces, only to realize I had known some of these people via other youth groups and events, but never met them before. The Jewish group hit it off. We spent an hour during the first day discussing how our Jewish identity mixes with other identities, whether Jewish and Latino, or Jewish and Israeli, or even Jewish and atheist. I had some of my favorite conversations in that group, and I learned a lot about other people and myself. The Jewish group wouldn’t be complete without a dance party and mock Bar Mitzvah party, the perfect conclusion to our time together. This was not the end, however. We sat together at dinner and even did Shabbat services (Friday Night Prayers) together after dinner. 

All of these experiences served one major goal: to help us return to our schools better equipped for DEI work. I learned strategies that worked in other schools, and strategies that didn’t. I learned problems other schools faced, and solutions they found. I also got to share my experiences with all of these DEI topics at Gulliver, something that reflecting on was extremely powerful for me. We learned from speakers about the power of hard work and perseverance, as well as how to effectively carry out DEI work at our schools.

Our final experience at the conference was one of the most powerful. Neelesh Pandey and I led a session for Gulliver’s attending teachers on discrimination at school and how to react. The other three students, Sydney Spence, Gaëlle Timmer, and Dennis Obsaint also pitched in ideas and scenarios. Using personal experiences and ideas we learned throughout the conference, we were able to provide the teachers present with a powerful exercise on responses to discrimination, an activity that I felt pride in organizing alongside the other students. It was incredible to know that I had a DEI support base at school, and that Gulliver’s faculty and staff were ready and willing to help with DEI work.

SDLC provided me with a space to learn and grow, while also giving me the ability to reflect on myself, my experiences, and the countless ideas presented. The 15-hour-long days felt like nothing, and many of the ideas I learned at SDLC are still being carried with me right now, and will continue to be unpacked over time. I learned valuable information that I am ready to bring back to Gulliver and to my work with Gulliver’s DEI endeavors. SDLC was a life changing experience, and it is one that I am incredibly grateful to have had, and cannot recommend enough to prospective attendees.