Student Diversity Council: decentralized leadership and a mandate for “Actions Not Words”

It is the first Student Diversity Council (SDC) meeting of February, and Avalon Dela Rosa ‘22 calls the session to order. Today’s agenda is packed. The plan is to discuss the virtual Black History Month assembly the group hosted online during the advisory period just an hour before. Avalon, who shares the title of SDC Co-Head with Frances Burton ’21, gets quickly to the subject at hand. “We're just going to debrief about how the assembly went and you can share something that went well or something to work on for next time,” she says, in a relaxed tone. “We have a lot of people today, so I was thinking about doing a round robin...”
And it’s true—there are a lot of faces in Zoom windows—38 of them. This is easily triple the size of last year’s membership, and includes students from all grade levels. The blossoming of the group this fall seems only natural to SDC member Piper West ’22, who explains, “Kids seemed to be moved by the surge of protests this past summer and I am glad that they decided to channel that passion into making a difference by joining Diversity Council.”

Caroline Squire ’23 offers up the first feedback about today’s presentation, entitled Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. “I think the assembly went really well,” says Caroline. She notes that sometimes students are too tired or too shy to speak up during advisory periods—but not today. “I think this advisory was really engaging,” she said. Lily Salazar ‘23 chimes in, “I also agree that we did have a good dialogue talking about our different experiences.” 

Although everyone yearns for in-person events again, Piper notes there are some benefits in delivering their assembly remotely in small groups. ”Advisory group presentations definitely give more room for discussion and it provides a level of intimacy that is lost in in-person assemblies,” she says. And with that intimacy, Piper hopes there might be a better sense of personal awareness too, saying, “I just hope that people left advisory that day having a better understanding of Black History Month and will hopefully take what they learned past February 28th.”

A couple of council members who had less active conversations in their advisory groups ask their fellow SDC representatives for tips. But, all in all, everyone was pleased with the day’s presentation. And Avalon and Frances make sure to affirm the strong content included in the assembly—the videos on Black history from a kid’s perspective, Black fashion pioneers, and colorism between POC (people of color) were especially thought-provoking. Without exception, the SDC members praise Piper West and Lola Falese ‘22 for putting this assembly together so well.

Lola enjoys hearing this. “Since I am Black, this assembly was personal to me,” she says, adding, “I wanted to embrace Black history and show Mayfield how astonishing it is.” Lola is pleased that the work she and Piper put in has been sparking useful conversations. “Getting feedback about how many [advisory groups] loved their discussions and shared their thoughts made me extremely happy and reminded me why I joined Diversity Council, which was to help the Mayfield community understand one another and embrace diversity.”

After the assembly debrief, everyone goes into their subcommittee breakout room to start tackling all the items on their ambitious agenda for this week’s meeting. The newsletter team will prepare the text for Black History Month to be included in the all-school bulletin; the arts group will design a flyer to invite all students to the upcoming Black History discussion; the publicity committee will produce Flipgrid videos honoring Black public figures; the social media group will create Instagram posts for Black History Month, and the clubs committee will explore which other Mayfield clubs might want to partner with the SDC this month. Avalon reminds everyone that Chinese/Lunar New Year is coming up soon, and suggests potentially reaching out to the Mandarin classes as well. The leadership may be decentralized but the efficiency of what this group accomplishes in a single hour is remarkable.

SDC faculty advisors Sarah Bruier Boland and Cassandra Gonzales, who are also Co-Directors of Mayfield’s Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (JDEI) program, are ever-present in these meetings, but they are also extremely mindful of the shared leadership approach favored by the council’s members. Ms. Bruier Boland and Ms. Gonzales make themselves available as resources—as sounding boards for ideas and planning, and as liaisons for outreach to staff and faculty. It’s clear they are pleased with the organic growth of this council this year, and the way the leadership has matured. “They're amazing,” says Ms. Gonzales. “They are so motivated, all of the students in the council, and it's also a really, really large number.”

It seems everyone comes to the SDC for a slightly different reason. Madison Rojas ’23 says, “As a Latina, I have sometimes experienced what it feels like to be excluded and I wanted to make sure that other BIPOC students at Mayfield didn't feel that way. Equity and inclusion is something I value very deeply and it is so important to teach high school students about inclusion so that the future generations become more accepting.” 

Avalon says, “I feel strongly about the need for inclusion, equity and justice within the Mayfield community. I have a passion and a real desire to make the communities I am a part of better places.” 

The work of the SDC isn’t contained to just their conversations with each other—their “Actions Not Words” mandate inspires the group to address issues of equity on a broader scale. This can mean things like holding school-wide conversations on Native American Heritage Month and Eurocentric beauty standards, to attending the NAIS People of Color (POCC) and Student Diversity Leadership (SDLC) conferences. Madison specifically mentions how her participation in this year’s SLDC conference gave her new tools to address old problems. “We all have the ability to change the world,” says Madison. “This conference gave me hope that my generation can change how we think about JDEI.”

And, in spite of the sheer magnitude of work to be done for justice and equity across every sector of our society, Piper shares a similar sense of hope, saying, “There is a world of systemic injustices that we have to cover and I am empowered to tackle them all.”
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.