By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When students visit schools other than their own, it’s often for competition.
When 100+ students visited Chief Sealth International High School this past Friday, it was for collaboration.
The occasion: “Better Together,” a four-hour student-led conference focused on equity and inclusivity in our schools – not top-down school/district-policy style, but brainstorming and inspiration for how the students and their peers could embody and increase it.
The conference was coordinated by CSIHS ASB president Della Floyd, who invited us to cover the conference. She explained that most of the participants, who came from independent as well as public schools, were also ASB leaders.
The tone was set by a lineup cheering the arrivals at the door of the Sealth gym (even mascot Sammy the Seahawk joined in). After participants were welcomed, they heard from a high-profile guest speaker, University of Washington president Ana Mari Cauce, who told the students, “You embody the powerful idea that if you want to see a change in the world,” you make it.
Too many organizations consider diversity as something “nice” to have, but, she asserted, “There is no excellence without diversity.” The world overflows with “big hairy complicated problems … we’re not going to solve them if we leave people on the sidelines”
Describing herself as a woman, Latina, lesbian, and immigrant, Cauce said she had to fight prejudices to win her job. Now, she said, she is ensuring the door is open for others who, as her screenwriter niece described Cauce, “aren’t out of central casting.” The UW’s Board of Deans is now half women, she said, and almost 20 percent people of color. “When you make changes at the top, it does filter through.”
She advised them not to be daunted as they move ahead on their leadership journey: “Sometimes we lead without being sure of what we’re doing.” She wasn’t certain she was up to her job, but she said yes, and “all those yes’es get you all kinds of places. … We can’t wait to see what you make of your future.”
The students also heard from King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who recalled his days learning about leadership in high school – and then pivoting his future plans after a senior-year trip to DC inspired him to seek a career in public service.
But the students did much more than just sit and listen to speeches. They broke into small groups that dove into topics such as bias and diversity, beneath the surface.
Not just the obvious things, but also traits that might elicit bias or judgment – someone’s accent, or perhaps a perception of their socioeconomic class based on what they wear or what they can afford.
The group we monitored agreed on the importance of reaching out to see who’s not getting involved in school events and why. Maybe the events themselves need to be more accessible. They discussed how things worked at their respective schools – and then it was time to reconvene.
Back in their respective school groups, they discussed what they learned before breaking for lunch. We had to move on, but the rest of their agenda included more small-group discussions, as well as more inspiration from speakers including Highline College‘s community-engagement director Rashad Norris. Next step after the four-hour conference: Turn what they learned into action.