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When sophomore Hailey Hauck led the female/feminine affinity group at the recent Student Leadership Diversity Retreat (SLDR) in Portland, Oregon, she was amazed at younger attendees' willingness to dive into complex discussions. Middle schoolers dissected the concept of institutional sexism and shared opinions on matters such as equal pay for equal work, stereotypical gender roles, and dress code. "It was truly inspiring to see strong young people ready to lead," Hailey said.
Over 175 students in grades six through twelve attended the February 9-10 SLDR, organized by the Northwest Association of Independent Schools. The annual two-day retreat builds leadership and communication skills with an emphasis on creating more diverse and inclusive school environments. This year's event had a particular focus on affinity groups, which are formed around a shared interest, experience, or goal. At the retreat, affinity groups gave students a space to focus on issues related to a dimension of their identity. Accordingly, the gathering also featured presentations on developing leadership skills, and using social and emotional intelligence to cultivate cross-cultural empathy.
Our student attendees—four upper schoolers and 10 middle schoolers—identified a leadership action plan to bring back to their school. They'll host lunchtime Courageous Conversations, or open-invitation meetings for students and faculty to discuss identity-related topics in a safe place. The students will also work to form affinity groups at our school.
Like Hailey, junior and affinity-group facilitator Claire Hyde was impressed with the maturity middle schoolers displayed at SLDR when discussing controversial topics. "They were able to clearly articulate themselves," Claire said. "I remember my first year attending the retreat, and it makes me happy to see so many students attending the SLDR for the first time and enjoying their experience as much as I did."
Rowland Hall attendees included Upper School students Isaac Ball, Charlotte Orford, Claire, and Hailey; and Middle School students Omar Alsolaiman, Sam Andrew, Mercedes Hinton, Gwenyth Hodson, Samantha Lehman, Rose Mickey Locke, Aileen Robles, Luke Sarin, Zakrie Smith, and Aurelie Wallis. Rowland Hall has attended this annual conference since it started in 2006 and plans to keep the tradition going. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund credited the retreat with developing the next generation of student leaders on the Inclusion and Equity Committee. "Our attendance at the conference shows our commitment to provide an inclusive and safe environment for all learners," he said.