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Students Explore Civil Discourse, Diversity at National Conference

Six members of Kaleidoscope, Visitation’s multicultural club and leaders of our annual Diversity Day, visited Nashville for a national independent school conference on diversity and leadership. Immediately pushed outside their comfort zone, the girls thrived, forging their own paths and making new friends. They all came away with a similar lesson: civil discourse is a necessary and important part of a diverse community. 

Seniors Senam Adedze and Claire Sague were among the Student Diversity and Leadership Conference attendees. While the Visitation crew arrived together, immediately after the first activity, the girls were separated into “family groups” for the remainder of the conference. 

“The people I met were really great, because there’s a certain anonymity when you’re separated from the people you came with,” Senam said. That anonymity made it possible for the group to be vulnerable with each other, discussing topics that can be difficult for many high schoolers. “You make quick and meaningful friendships. That was interesting for me because you think those friendships where you can be your authentic self can take years. Under the right conditions, it can be just days.”

Claire was uncomfortable at first and found it strange to be without the company of her fellow Visi girls, but she became more open with time. “I feel confident talking about myself,” she said, which Claire wants to make possible for students on Diversity Day. “There is a struggle to be confident in who you are [and your opinions]. You don’t want conflict, but conflict means there is a diversity of opinions and that’s valuable, too.”

Finding conflict with another person’s perspectives is an opportunity for one to respectfully disagree, and much of the conference focused on that aspect of diversity. Senam explained that when she thought about what she would learn at the conference, she thought about current events. Instead, “A lot of what we talked about was how do you converse with other people: the impact of what you say. Do you listen? Do you wait to respond?” she said. “Right now, Diversity Day happens to focus on current events and political issues … Often, it’s not political, it’s personal. Bringing it to the level of the individual rather than party lines, and that’s something we’re going to try to do this year.” 

For Senam, that question of listening and waiting to respond arose during one speaker’s presentation: a former white supremacist who reformed and created a nonprofit to combat white right-wing terrorism in America. “As someone who is black, it was particularly difficult,” she said. “It was interesting to experience a place where I haven’t been able to relate to their [perspective], where I felt attacked in a way. It was a growing moment for me. Throughout the process and the conversation, I was sort of able to come to terms with being more open to listening … It helped me in terms of not shutting down when I hear something I don’t like.”

She now is taking the skills she learned into the classroom, and even at home. “These things affect us throughout our lives, not just in school, but in work environments and college. It’s how you relate to people on a human-to-human basis,” Senam said. “Even just talking to my family, I have more thought behind what I say.”

Diversity Day will take place on April 3, 2019.

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