Inaugural Diversity Conference Student Leadership Team reflects on planning process, importance of student voice

The+Diversity+Conference+Student+Leadership+Team+presents+at+a+community+connections+meeting+to+preface+this+year%27s+Diversity+Conference.+This+is+the+first+year+a+student+team+has+helped+plan+the+event.+

Photo credit: Sabrina Kim

The Diversity Conference Student Leadership Team presents at a community connections meeting to preface this year's Diversity Conference. This is the first year a student team has helped plan the event.

Students, faculty, staff and visitors gather each January for the annual Diversity Conference, which aims to encourage “an ongoing exploration of our commonalities and differences,” according to the Archer website. Although the format of this year’s conference, which will take place this Wednesday, remains similar to those in past years, a student leadership team was introduced this year to help include student perspective in the coordination of the annual event. 

“I have always really wanted to shape how the diversity conference was laid out,” senior and team member Misha Mehta said. “I think there were a lot of things that were done well in the past, but then also a lot of things that could have been more student-driven and targeted to what we wanted to learn about and hear about.”

Fellow team member and senior Victoria Pinkett seconded Mehta’s notion about the importance of including student voices in the planning of a student-centered event.

“The diversity conference has always been something I really look forward to every year, and I think that when you have an event that is geared toward…engaging students in discussions about diversity, it’s really important to have student input,” Pinkett said. “When I heard that they were having a student group this year, it was something that I really wanted to be a part of.”

The inaugural team consists of seven seniors and two juniors and was created at the end of the 2018-2019 school year by the current faculty team. The team members include juniors Madis Kennedy and Addison Lee, along with seniors Nia Mosby, Misha Mehta, Victoria Pinkett, Karis McCaskill, Maddie Fenster, Kennede Tucker and Celeste Ramirez. In order to plan this year’s conference, the team has met weekly to design the theme and coordinate the workshops that occur on the day of the conference. This year’s theme is “Our Complexities ~ Our Connections.”

“I think one of our challenges was picking a theme that we could all agree on,” senior and team member Karis McCaskill said. “There are so many issues to address, so we had to decide what was going to grab the most people and instigate a lot of conversations.”

When brainstorming a theme, the team found answers in moments of discomfort and questioning. 

“We were questioning each other, but very productively,” Mehta said. “I think the fact that we were able to do that in a space made us want to bring that to the community, and I think I have a newfound perspective and a lot more knowledge on citizenship status and documentation after asking questions and debating things out loud, rather than just watching something about it.” 

Throughout the planning of the conference, the team encountered various challenges, such as agreeing on a movie and finding time for all of the activities in the day. 

“There were a lot of activities and different speakers that we wanted to get into that we didn’t have time to, just because we only have one day. We debated whether or not it should be split up into two days, but ultimately the faculty and student team decided against it,” senior and team member Maddie Fenster said. “Moving forward, if diversity day was moved into diversity two days or three days or a week or something, [that would] give it the time that it deserves to be as profound as we want it to be.” 

While the Diversity Conference only lasts for one day, the team hopes that the theme, film and workshops will inspire conversation throughout the school year. Part of the outreach the team conducted to prepare students for the day was a community connections assembly last Wednesday in which a panel faculty members discussed citizenship and documentation.

“I think ideally, I envision people wanting to learn more and having these discussions, which is why I’m proud that we had that preface into it at community connections,” McCaskill said. “I think when people are uncomfortable, they tend to shut down and be quiet instead of talking through the discomfort, but I think that with all of this build-up and education before, it helps bring down the barriers.” 

Although there were challenges, Fenster and Misha said that they are proud of their work and the “important” role their team played and will continue to play in the conference this year. 

“We’re here because we want to provide student voices,” Fenster said. “The fact that this team is there and proving that we have differing opinions from the faculty, and being able to voice those opinions is really important.”