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Becoming Leaders Through Real World Experiences

Becoming Leaders Through Real World Experiences
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Members of BSM’s affinity group recently participated in two events – one local, one national – which provided them with opportunities to use leadership skills they’ve been developing in school. In November 2023, six BSM juniors attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in St. Louis, MO, organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and on January 15, five students joined Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor, Peggy Flanagan and other community leaders at the City of St. Louis Park’s National Day of Racial Healing (NDRH) event.

“I'm inspired to be a leader in creating a caring community at BSM by all the other student leaders that I met over the days at SDLC,” said Raphael Johnson-Nixon ‘25, “All the progress and change they made in their communities inspires me to do the same whether it's from making the school more inclusive or changing unfair rules that target specific students.”

BSM students en route to the 2023 SDLC conference in St. Louis, MO.

For the dozens of students who attend the twice monthly affinity group meetings, they learn valuable knowledge about historical events and how best to become advocates for respectful behavior among the BSM student body. According to Dennis Draughn, BSM’s director of equity, inclusion, and belonging, “I have witnessed our students develop leadership skills and gain the confidence needed for honest discussions about race and equity.”

These conversations and learning experiences at BSM have helped the students nurture their confidence to attend larger events like the SDLC and NDRH gatherings. “[At SDLC] we talked a lot about respectful dialogue and how to have productive and respectful conversations with people who have different beliefs as your own,” said Sophia Hoffman ’25, adding, “I am inspired to bring these leadership skills I learned at SDLC back to BSM so that I can hopefully inspire other leaders at BSM.”

By attending the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference, Sophia and the other juniors from BSM met student leaders from across the U.S. and abroad in small group workshops and training sessions. They asked questions, learned from trained adult and peer facilitators how to engage in cross-cultural dialogue and be effective leaders for fostering a respectful and positive atmosphere at BSM. As a result of the experience, the students were motivated to form their own student diversity leadership council here at BSM.

“This is really exciting, because these students want to initiate positive changes and policies for the betterment of all students,” Draughn explained. “They are learning how to represent the voice of students who may sometimes feel that their concerns are not being heard at BSM and advocate for compassion and respect.”

Members of BSM’s student diversity leadership council are actively looking at how best to inspire positive changes for the school community by being active leaders among the students. “I understand the importance of having role models that may be in your grade or a higher grade that can represent and motivate you in uncomfortable spaces,” said Jazz Whitfield ’25, noting, “As a junior, I aspire to be a leader so that other students know that they can accomplish anything at BSM and set the tone for many students to come.”

While Draughn leads the bi-monthly affinity meetings for students at BSM, he is supported by other members of the faculty, reflecting the shared sense of responsibility to nurture the community of care which is inherent to BSM’s Catholic culture. Ten BSM faculty members attended the NAIS People of Color Conference (POCC) which runs in tandem with the SDLC event for students. For Katherine Johnson, a learning support specialist, the ability to promote understanding, empathy, and constructive communication at BSM is very important.

“The POCC conference has inspired me to be a leader in creating a community that genuinely cares about one another at BSM,” Johnson said. “The emphasis on restorative practices and the powerful messages from speakers reinforced the importance of building connections, understanding diverse perspectives and backgrounds, and actively working towards a community where everyone feels heard and valued.”

Building connections through real life for students extends beyond BSM, which is why Red Knights participated in this year’s National Day of Racing Healing event hosted by the city of St. Louis Park. “As a Catholic school, BSM gives students moments to learn about one another’s background and perspectives,” Draughn explained, “By being at the NDRH event, our students were able to be active listeners in local community conversations.”

For students like Liya Elias ‘25, being at the NDRH event was very informative. “I thought this event was an amazing experience to learn about different people's perspectives and the way that they think. I had a lot of fun and I would love to do it again!”

Plans for affinity group meetings during semester two include learning about the Japanese Internment Camps, participating in discussions about the struggles faced by Latina-owned restaurants, and meeting guest presenters for February’s Black History Month presentations at BSM including motivational speaker Darryl Bellamy and Dr. Yohuru Williams of St. Thomas University.

“BSM is honored to provide these experiences for students to learn and grow as individuals and collectively,” Draughn said. “This work is fundamental to the core of our identity as a Catholic school – reflecting our values to be a unified community where we care for each other without distinction. Our affinity group meetings are not limited to students of color, because we strive to help every student become multicultural citizens who contribute meaningfully to a global society.”

  • Affinity Group
  • National Conference
  • National Day of Racial Healing
  • POCC
  • SDLC
  • leadership

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About Benilde-St. Margaret's School
Benilde-St. Margaret's (BSM) is a Catholic, co-educational private prep school for grades 7–12 located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, that draws its over one thousand students from throughout the Twin Cities Metro Area. It is located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The mission of BSM is to educate, empower, and inspire learners within a Catholic community to lead lives of faith, achieve academic excellence, and contribute meaningfully to a global society.

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