Q: Tell us about the summer Student Leadership Institute. What was the experience like?
ADYA: The Student Leadership Institute, or SLI, was a three-day event over Zoom that was a way for us to hear the voices of other leaders and challenges that people have faced within their respective work at CPS and talk about the ways that we can collaborate and help each other in order to benefit CPS as a whole. We haven't really done anything like this in the past. It was super new this year.
The three main faculty members were Duane McNeil, Director of Athletics, Trinity Thompson, Director of Experiential and Community Based Learning, and Jeremiah Jackson, Director of Equity and Inclusion. Also attending were Amy Breed, one of the librarians, and Molly Aronson-Gelb, the drama teacher. We talked about what equity and inclusion looks like at College Prep amongst leaders of athletics, gender, and identity-affinity clubs. We tried to increase the scope of clubs that we could include in this retreat because we realized, especially now, that equity and inclusion pervades all things. It’s not just for SEAT. We talked about what leadership is and what the rewards are in the process of being good leaders. We also discussed how we can be aware of our own decision making skills through the biases that we have within ourselves from our own personal experiences.
NINA: Everyone was there on the first day, including PHIRE Seniors (a student group for Peer Health Initiatives, Resources, and Education). We were able to talk about what it means to be a leader and reflect on our own leadership styles and everything that we've learned in past experiences. We talked about what we can learn from each other and what it means to be an equitable and responsible leader.
Q: Were there any specific projects that you discussed to work on for the school year?
NINA: On the third day, Adya and I were able to talk a lot about CPS Day and how we can change it for this year specifically. Because it is going to be online, we wanted to discuss how we can make it most accessible for every student and try and incorporate the whole community, including alums and parents. Previously, there's definitely been a gap in understanding what CPS Day really is, so we want to make sure that that is really well communicated this year.
ADYA: We put together a presentation about demographics and diversity, things that are often overlooked when planning these big events. We want to further level the playing field and make sure that everyone is on board with why we want to do our proposed central theme of this year’s CPS Day, “The Intersectionality of the Black Lives Matter Movement.” We want to explain what intersectionality is and how BLM really affects and pervades so many different sectors, from education to healthcare, to athletics, to government and policing. Hopefully people were able to see why we chose that theme and how CPS can be better at educating itself about Black Lives Matter.
Q: What do you feel you took away from this experience on a personal level?
NINA: I had a really great time and was able to reflect on my leadership style for all of the leadership roles that I’ve been a part of. I was a chair of NPHC (No Place for Hate Coalition) last year, a chair of SWIRL (Students With Inter-Racial Lives) for the past two years, and have been part of SEAT. I also have a new role as a seat chair in PHIRE. I was able to reflect on what I can bring to the table, what my strengths are, and what I need to work on as a leader.
ADYA: I guess I didn't realize that so much consideration and reflection is super necessary for being a leader. I was part of The Partners Program since I was a freshman and was mentoring these students without really thinking of myself in a leadership position. I'm an ambassador for the school as well, and I hadn’t stopped to think about my approach as a leader. Nina and I have had the privilege to be NPHC chairs last year as well as SEAT chairs this year, so SLI was an important way for us to reflect on our leadership styles and their impact. That was eye-opening for me in the sense that I got to talk with other people who have been in similar positions, especially with PHIRE, and what it means for us to mentor other kids that might be younger in age than us.
Q: How do you feel this leadership experience will impact the school community as a whole this year?
NINA: Having a lot of students come together and talk about this was, I think, additionally helpful for all of us, because we were able to really have this large group conversation where we were all able to talk and share ideas, opinions, and feelings surrounding it in a new, broader way which I really appreciated. I also appreciated the ability to speak with my peers who aren't leaders or who weren’t previously involved in E&I work, and hear their concerns and worries about what the school has done, or the lack of what’s been done. It was rewarding to feel a sense of community with my peers surrounding our common concern for the school, and our common disappointment in some of the choices that leadership has made about outreach, or the language that's being used. More can be done. I feel like we need to stress that more needs to be done.
ADYA: It was super motivating to hear worries that I had about the school or the injustices that I've dealt with as an immigrant, woman, and person of color reflected among other people and resonating with other people. I've definitely felt that E&I conversations don’t happen enough, and this was a great opportunity for me to see how other people view their own positions and what they can do to be more equitable. I heard from people that I had never heard from before about equity and inclusion, which is amazing. I don't think that the Student Leadership Institute was the end-all-be-all, nor do I think that it was enough to stop the problems that we've had with leadership within students in the past, but I definitely think it was motivating. It told me that this is real change that can happen if we all put our heads together, because we're all on the same page about it. They definitely pushed me to feel like more can happen from just talking.