News & Views

Ninth Grader Leads Discussions in Upper School

by Julia Cooper
I have a vivid memory of when I learned about the Student Diversity Leadership Conference for the first time. I was in seventh grade and six ninth graders gave a presentation on the eight identifiers - religion, age, ethnicity, socio-economic-status, race, sexual orientation, ability, and gender. As much information as they shared in that presentation, I still had so many questions:
What’s the difference between race and ethnicity? 
Why is ability a big deal? 
Why these eight words? 
What even is identity?

I signed up for and attended the Connecticut SDLC in the spring of seventh grade to answer some of these questions. That was, to date, one of the most transformative discussions I’ve ever participated in. However, only around six students from my grade attended and had the opportunity to gain the new perspective I did. What about the other students? 

When I was selected to attend the national SDLC Conference in December, I decided that this would be the year everyone would engage in these discussions and receive the education necessary to move forward in the world. Since the conference in December, the SDLC committee has been hard at work educating fellow students and creating an environment for discussion. Through a three-day course, students explored the eight identifiers, privilege, the importance of spectrums, harmful stereotypes, and representation.

In teaching my seventh and eighth grade peers I learned almost all students have the same questions I did in seventh grade. Spending an hour twice a week with seventh graders has opened my eyes to their curiosity in regards to identity. Each lesson, I flip through the slideshow, give examples, help make connections, facilitate discussions and lead activities. The content of each lesson is the same, but the differences in each group’s conversation have surprised me. Although I am in a teaching position for these classes, as a 14-year-old I still have so much to learn about identity. The seventh and eighth graders bring fresh perspectives and make connections I hadn’t thought of before. They understand that binary options don’t reflect everyone’s experiences or identities, that negative stereotypes and representation can have damaging effects on a group of people, and they began to see that differences in ability don’t mean disability, but that society makes things harder for some people. 

At the end of each lesson, the question that I leave students with is, “Why does this matter?” Sometimes a student will answer and share their take on the lesson while other times, they reflect internally. However, they answer, I hope through this education students will proceed into the world with more compassion, respect and grace, and continue to explore identity and why it is important. 

New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.