The Largest Group in St. Stephen’s History Attends People of Color and Student Diversity Leadership Conferences

The group of 23 attended the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (POCC) and Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), while also grieving the loss of former SSES DEI Director Yvonne Adams, who previously planned and led the trip for several years. 

“It's what she wanted,” said Marsha Elliot, associate director of equity and inclusion for student programming.

“Because of the joy that it gave [Yvonne] that we were sending this cohort of people representing St. Stephen’s – this cohort of like-minded people for whom this experience would be special.”

The POCC and SDLC, which drew a total of about 8,000 people nationwide this year, happen simultaneously and in partnership with each other. The POCC is geared toward adults working in independent schools, and aims to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds. The SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders from independent high schools across the U.S. and abroad. 

“Traditionally at Independent schools [people of color] are not the majority, and so this is really special,” said Elliot.

Both students and SSES faculty alike said the experience is difficult to put into words because it is deeply personal, while also offering the opportunity for growth in their roles as leaders and professionals. Moledina attended the SDLC for the first time, and called it the experience of a lifetime.

“I truly got to learn more about myself in ways that I never thought possible,” said Moledina ‘27. “It allowed me to recommit myself to being true to myself and embracing my identity.”

The freshman Spartan enjoyed the opportunity of  meeting and connecting with students from across the country, while also creating lasting connections with fellow St. Stephen’s students and faculty.

“[They] help me feel much more at home at school,” said Moledina.

Elliot has been attending the POCC with various schools since the early 2000’s. She is now a SDLC faculty member who nurtures, guides and co-facilitates “family groups” made up of about 70 students who don’t know each other. They start with icebreaker questions to get to know each other quickly and then dig deep into their identities, which allows the students to connect with other students who are similar or different in ways they never have before. Ziri Udezue ‘26, who attended the conference for the first time, was touched by the speakers and the connections he made in the affinity spaces.

“They allowed me to feel particularly recognized in certain identities,” said Udezue. “I enjoyed the close relationships built between the six students that went.” 

It is rewarding for Elliot to see how special this time is for the students.

“Sometimes that's what the soul needs is just being in space and communion and community with other people with similar lived experiences,” said Elliot. “And to see everybody in that space just walking into the space, it's a beautiful thing.”
This year marked Upper School Counselor Jennie Kim’s third year to attend the POCC. As a Korean- American born and raised in the United States, she says there are very few people who look like her in the schools where she’s worked.

One of the most impactful sessions she attended was called “Sisterhood of Survival: Creating Radical Relationships. Practice for Thriving, Surviving and Joy.” It piqued her interest because she helps facilitate faculty of color meetings at St. Stephen’s, and also because she was grieving Yvonne and thought it would be a special time of gathering with women of color. 

“There was so much echoing and empowerment of women and real challenge, even in the moment, like ‘get to know the person next to you and call them your sister’ and how we need to be bold and radical in our relationships,” said Kim. So as soon as I came back [to Austin] and had a second,I immediately emailed the other women of color on campus to try to support and hold space for all of us.”

Kim also enjoyed the quality time spent with Spartan students and coworkers, away from the hectic work-school environment. It gave the group a chance to get to know each other on a deeper level and provide space for each other.

The 2024 POCC and SDLC will be held in Denver, Colorado, and St. Stephen’s is looking forward to sending another group of students and employees.

SSES supports diversity as an essential component of a quality education that encourages respect for and empowerment of the individual and discourages the formation of stereotypes and prejudices. St. Stephen’s further believes our commitment to diversity is an ongoing process, which will continue to strengthen and enhance our school community. 

Read more here to learn about St. Stephen's steadfast commitment to creating a diverse learning experience.
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213