As a sophomore in high school, Dhruv Singh was quick to form an opinion and slow to change it. Three years in Youth LEAD, a Sharon, Massachusetts–based youth leadership program, has transformed him.
“Now I’m much more appreciative, and I take a lot more time to hear and understand where people I disagree with are coming from,” said Singh, a senior at Sharon High School and facilitation co-chair for the Youth LEAD’s TIDE Conference, which will be hosted at Emerson College through the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research this Memorial Day weekend.
The TIDE (Teen Identity and Diversity Education) Conference, now in its ninth year, is completely organized and run by Youth LEAD teens. Each year, the workshops and activities revolve around a theme; this year, in a riff on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller, the theme is “Lean In: Transforming Conflict Through Communication.”
The conference will kick off with a two-hour symposium exploring that theme, featuring Boston City Council Chairwoman Michelle Wu; public relations pioneer Colette Phillips ’76, MS ’80; and Emerson President Lee Pelton. It will be held Friday, May 27, 1:00–3:00 pm, in the Bordy Theater. The entire Emerson community is invited; refreshments will be served.
Emerson Trustee Raj Sharma, MA ’83, has also served on the Youth LEAD board for the last two years but has been involved with the organization for much longer than that through his kids, all four of whom participated as teenagers.
“The goal is to develop a generation of globally aware young leaders, but the way you do it is important,” Sharma said. “The fundamental premise of Youth LEAD is ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’ Effectively, young people are able to engage across differences and reflect on issues of diversity, feminism, political culture, conflicts we see around the world.”
The TIDE Conference invites students from around the country to participate in a weekend of workshops that teach communication skills and help them look at the world through the lens of social justice and understanding. It has been hosted by a number of Boston-area colleges and universities, but this will be the first year Emerson hosts the conference, taking place May 27–29.
Conference Director Divya Chandramouli, who acts as a liaison and mentor to the students organizing the event, said the “Lean In” theme of this year’s conference is kind of a reminder to participants to not back off when conversations get difficult.
“To ‘lean in’ and overcome that discomfort and fear is not necessary because it’s fun but because your compassion and listening skills are needed in that moment,” Chandramouli said.
“There [may be] a constant ‘Oh my God, what is this world coming to?’ feeling, and the instinct might be to turn away from that and disengage from that,” she said. “’Lean in’ here, too, functions as a reminder that we too need to approach those conversations and approach those spaces with compassion and respect, just because we’re needed too in those spaces. Because disengagement is not going to solve our problems,” said Chandramouli, who is herself a Youth LEAD alumna.
Singh, who is in his last year of Youth LEAD, will go on to Brown University next year, where he plans to study cognitive science and film. He said he expects his experiences in Youth LEAD will be valuable, no matter where life takes him.
“I honestly think the things that Youth LEAD teaches really just work in everyday life,” he said. “But I think specific to film, it’s given me much more appreciation of all the different stories that people have. So you realize through Youth LEAD that everyone has stories of their own that can be really compelling…
“It’s really opening my eyes to hearing more cool stories,” he said.