Learning at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference

Rohan Arjun ‘05 attended his first Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in 2004. He was in his senior year at George School, and as a Co-Leader of the Diversity Steering Committee he was selected to attend the conference, where he found 800 other student leaders and an amazing 25 person faculty all of whom were passionate about diversity work. It was in that space that he realized his calling to the work, and the foundation for him to be a diversity practitioner was laid. In 2017, Rohan returned to George School as the director of Admission, and as the chair of the Search Committee for SDLC he encouraged his friend and colleague, Rebecca Missonis, to apply to join the faculty, which she did in 2018. Approximately 65 faculty from a variety of independent schools, colleges and universities, and other educational institutions are chosen via a rigorous application and training process to serve approximately 1700+ students at the conference, every year.

The SDLC faculty is like family to one another. Like Rohan, many attended their first SDLC as students, and have been serving on the faculty ever since, and about a third of SDLC faculty have served in the role for a decade or more. With the exception of 2020, the faculty meets every year at a conference center for a long weekend in October to develop the curriculum centered around that year’s conference theme. A typical workday starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends around midnight, and faculty hold regular phone/Zoom meetings after the development weekend to refine the curriculum, so even newcomers feel fully a part of the faculty family when the conference finally starts in early December. In 2020, the faculty met virtually every Saturday and Sunday throughout October and November to develop the first fully virtual SDLC, which was held December 1-4. Because there were no physical restrictions on space this year, 2200+ high school students from around the country, including 6 from George School, participated in the conference.

For Rohan, SDLC felt like home from the moment he walked into the Miami Beach Convention Center in 2004 and it continues to feel that way 17 years later regardless of the host city or virtual platform. He referenced the conference as an “experience,” one that can only be described by the words “magic,” “powerful”, and “transformative”. There really is no other way to sum up how participants walk into the conference or in this year’s case log in as strangers and over the course of two and a half days become one big 1700+ person family. The reflections, sharing of things participants have never told their own families or closest friends, support for each other, and the growth that happens in the space is a true reflection of the reason the conference was originally created. Rohan returned to George School after his first conference feeling transformed. He found himself wanting and needing to be a part of that experience moving forward. Luckily for him a few weeks later he received a letter from Izetta Mobley, one of his SDLC facilitators, inquiring about the process of joining faculty and the rest is history. In 2019 they were at an event together and Rohan mentioned the letter thinking that Izetta had sent a similar letter to all 50 students in her group, but she shared that the letters were only sent to a handful of participants in whom she saw the true spirit of SDLC. The conference continues to be the best personal and professional development that Rohan has ever had. This year’s conference, while not in person, was even more special for Rohan because George School was once again represented on the student side after many years.

For Rebecca, SDLC has also been the most important personal and professional development experience of her career. SDLC faculty work as facilitators rather than teachers and Rebecca has found that the training she’s received as a facilitator has enhanced and invigorated her classroom teaching. She finds working as a DEI practitioner and training high school students to be DEI practitioners in their own schools and communities, to be thrilling, challenging, and deeply rewarding. She has learned to ask more meaningful and productive questions about herself and the situations she encounters in seeking equity and justice. She says “our co-chairs, Rodney, Oscar, and Collinus, provide compelling and compassionate leadership, and I feel tremendous gratitude for being a part of the SDLC family. I am so happy that we had George School students join us in the space again this year and I hope that we will always have GS students with us at future conferences.”

The Student Diversity Leadership Conference was founded in 1993 by a group of 50 9th-12th grade students who were charged with designing and building a conference to compliment the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) People of Color Conference. Rodney Glasgow, now Head of School at Sandy Spring Friends School, was one of those students, and he has served on faculty ever since with his tenure as Co-Chair of SDLC beginning in 2004.

Rohan is a principal consultant with The Glasgow Group, LLC, a founding member of the National Diversity Practitioners Institute, and chair of My Brothers’ Keeper: A Retreat for Men of Color in Education. He serves as chair of the faculty search committee for the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference. He is also a member of Newtown Friends School Board of Trustees, Far Hills Country Day School Board of Trustees, The Enrollment Management Association Admission Leadership Council, and the Admission Advisory Council for ASSIST. Rohan earned a BA from Temple University in African-American studies with a minor in History and an MSEd. in School Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.

Rebecca is clerk of faculty at George School. She has lived in East Main and Campbell and served as the class sponsor for the Classes of 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2022, as well as a member and clerk of several committees. She is a recipient of the Swayne Preceptorship, Andrew Bourns Social Justice Grant, and Lang Grant, and is a SDLC faculty member. Rebecca earned a BA in English and History from Williams College and an MA in the Humanities with a focus on US History from Adams State University.

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