Dana Hall’s Community Day of Learning focuses on justice and human rights

by Elizabeth Gardner, Sophia Lu, Gloria Revanche, and Hannah Robinson

Dana Hall students were welcomed back from Spring Break with a Community Day of Learning on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. The day focused on questions of justice and human rights, and students were prompted with three guiding questions: What do human rights look like? What is my obligation in ensuring your human rights? What gets in the way of achieving universal human rights? Jules Burke ’20, reflecting on the day, said, In our society, we overlook things that we don’t want to think about; today helped me realize that we really need to be proactive in our social justice inquiries.”

Dr. Vanessa Kerry, co-founder of Seed Global Health, began the day with the keynote address. Seed Global Health works in conjunction with the Peace Corps to create the Global Health Service Partnership, which hires doctors and nurses to work in resource-limited countries and educate local doctors, so that these countries can become medically self-sufficient. Dr. Kerry has worked to make Seed Global Health an organization that fosters the grassroots by engaging local communities where they are working. Seed Global Health embeds their faculty into local medical schools, educating local medical professionals so that the knowledge stays there even after the Seed faculty leave. Faculty are encouraged to embed themselves in their community by attending community events such as weddings and funerals. They receive a salary of around $5,000 so that they live similarly to their local colleagues.  

During her speech, Dr. Kerry, the daughter of former Secretary of State and Massachusetts U.S. Senator John Kerry, said, “I come from a family of service. When you’re called to serve, you go.” Dr. Kerry emphasized the importance of student involvement in service as well as student awareness and understanding of global issues. She believes in “not always taking the easy road” and told the audience that “you all have a choice to decide who you’re going to be and how you’re going to engage your community.”

Dr. Kerry also addressed the impact the new administration will have on Seed Global Health as they do receive funding from the federal government. She is optimistic about the power of government but does believe Seed Global Health’s funding is at risk since she has heard “rumors of getting rid of the Peace Corps” and that the administration has “been arbitrary in what stays and goes.”

After the morning presentation, participants attended a range of 21 workshops, from “The True Cost of Chocolate: Child Labor and Slavery on West African Cocoa Plantations” led by Ms. Heather Panihi to “The Subtlety of Human Rights: One Immigrant’s Tale” led by Brandeis Professor Mitra Shavarini. Some workshops were given by teachers based on their academic specialities, such as Dr. John Doll’s “Evaluating Science in the Popular Media – Hoaxes, Hysteria and Hard Facts” and Mr. Matt Enlow’s “Measuring Fairness in District Drawing,” about creating electoral districts that accurately represent local voters.

Other workshops were led by students. Maya Darville ’20 led “Abductions & Assumptions,” a workshop on the case of the 64,000 missing black girls in the United States, specifically in Washington D.C. Her discussion-style workshop dealt with why these girls are being labelled as runaways instead of missing persons and why there has been a lack of attention from major news outlets surrounding these cases. “Life-changing Service Opportunities” was led by a panel of both teachers, including Ms. Angela Macedo, Director of Community Service Programs, and students who have dedicated their time and energy to community service. Charlene Tsai ’20 said she was “really impressed that doing community service can impact our daily decisions.”

Art workshops were also offered, such as “The Music of Social Justice,” led by Ms. Jennifer Gaul and Ms. Jen Ashe, both from the Music School. The music workshop gave students the opportunity to explore the history of music and activism and learn a song about freedom while Ms. Ashe played the ukulele. Another workshop choice was “Art as Activism,” led by art teachers Ms. Kassie Teng and Ms. Michael Frassinelli, Ms. Lindsey White, the Director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Development, and students Sasha Megie ’17 and Amera Youseff ’17. During the discussion on human rights and current topics, the panel talked about artists who expressed their opinions on current events through their artwork. Then, the participants made their own T-shirts, completing the printed phrase “Be Kind, Make Art, …” to express their opinions through their own art work. 

During lunch, students had the opportunity to watch the documentary film “White Helmets.” The film tells the story of the White Helmets, volunteer rescue workers for the Syrian Civil Defense who endanger their lives daily rescuing survivors of the violent conflict. The film, which won Best Short Documentary at the 2017 Academy Awards, is available on Netflix, so students who missed the viewing at school can still watch the film.

Following the optional documentary and lunch, advisory groups got together to discuss and debrief the day. In each group, the three guiding questions that were asked at the beginning of the day were discussed, as well as further discussions about human and civil rights. Annie Lao ’20 states that from The Community Day of Learning as a whole, she “learned to be thankful to live in such a great environment.”

The Community Day of Learning was essentially a teach-in, although Ms. Jessica Keimowitz, Director of the Upper School, says they avoided that label because “teach-in” recalls the Vietnam Era. Dana Hall’s only other teach-in was in 1970, after President Nixon had announced on April 30 the United States’s invasion of Cambodia as part of the ongoing Vietnam War. Four days later, on May 4, students from Kent State University protested the Cambodian invasion by setting fire to the ROTC building. The governor of Ohio sent in 900 National Guardsmen, who shot into a crowd of students, killing four and wounding nine. The Kent State shootings created a national feeling of attack on dissenting student voices.

Three days after the Kent State shootings, on Thursday, May 7, Dana Hall students responded by having a teach-in on Fathers’ Visiting Day, the annual father-daughter tea. At the request of their daughters, instead of having tea with their fathers after dinner, students urged a discussion on the Vietnam War in “the Pit,” the then-dining center. This was not a spontaneous event but rather a student-planned teach-in. The Dana Hall administration responded to the students by having a longer teach-in program. Parents and alumnae were invited to attend workshops and films, such as a workshop on the “Student Strike Movement,” similar to the ones the Dana Hall community attended in March 2017.

Similarly, this year’s Community Day of Learning was also prompted by current events, in this case by President Trump’s January 27 executive order about travel restrictions, widely perceived as a “Muslim ban.” “Lots of faculty were upset, and there was a lot of back and forth about how we could use this as a learning opportunity to help students learn about their basic rights,” said Ms. Keimowitz. At first, Ms. Keimowitz suggested that the Social Studies department get together to teach about the issue, but ultimately it proved to be bigger than just one department. Mr. Eric Goodson, Social Studies teacher, says he is proud of the school administration for “setting the precedent to gather across grade levels to learn from each other.”

The faculty and staff who put this day together had just about six weeks to plan the Community Day of Learning, which, according to Ms. Keimowitz, was the hardest part of the project. “I wish we had had more time to plan things in advance–we only had one day to place students into workshops, and I feel if we had more time, we would have been able to get another guest speaker or have parents who are experts in their fields come in.” Ms. Keimowitz is unsure if the event will become an annual thing; however, she said that she was “so thrilled that so many people have asked in the past 24 hours [after the event]. It’s awesome and really exciting.”

Katherine Ward ’20 says that she “realized how privileged we are … to go to a school that talks about current issues. … Because Dana urges us to share our opinions, I felt very comfortable sharing my stance on current matters at the end of the workshops. By having the privilege to practice it at school, we are prepared to change what we need about the world. After these workshops, I will not take for granted what I have, and try to speak up about human rights issues that I believe in.”

Images: Top right: Dr. Vanessa Kerry of SEED Global Health; photo by Liza Connelly. Above right: The t-shirt that workshop participants filled in and decorated during the “Art as Activism” workshop.

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