Day of Community Learning leads to new awareness and conversations

Dana Hall’s annual Day of Community Learning was held on Friday, December 13, 2019. Instead of following the normal Friday class schedule, Dana Hall students attended a variety of workshops on the theme “Building Bridges and Sharing Spaces.” All sorts of workshops took place throughout the day, and while each one made students aware of very different issues, like inequities in the college admission process and gentrification, all left students with an important lesson about their place in the world around them.

Ms. Vivian Wu Wong of Milton Academy, who gave the opening presentation, talked about the struggles of being Asian American and about the “model minority myth,” a list of expectations that Asians are assumed to meet, such being quiet and good at math. She commented that Asian Americans have to speak twice as loud for their ideas to be heard.  She claimed that people believe that, since many Asian-Americans are successful in the American system, then there must be nothing wrong with the system.  People are trying to ignore the fact that there is a flaw within the system.

The theme of “Building Bridges and Sharing Spaces” grew out of the Shared Studios portal that Social Studies teacher Alexandra Siemon was familiar with where people can connect with others around the world through a shared online platform. Dean of Students Kristin Ryan explained, “we had that portal as our core and realized of course that when you’re thinking about equity and inclusion, sharing spaces is the right metaphor. Then we decided part of that is building bridges between differences as well. And it was a cool metaphor just in it of itself that we have a physical space where you can connect with people and hear about the same topic from different perspectives, and that was the thing we want to encourage in all aspects of the day, whether through the workshops or the presentation in the morning.”

The Shared Studios company brought these portals to campus and connected Dana Hall community members with people in Afghanistan and Mexico City. The portal resembled a bouncy house with a big screen on the inside and chairs for students. Technological difficulties prevented the Dana community from speaking with people in Iraq, which had been the third intended location for the day. Ms. Seimon stated, “You can be really creative about how you want to use it. The philosophy is basically bringing people together by using technology to put people in the same room.”

The workshops were led by students, teachers, and other members of the community. The workshop “Action Plan against Hate Crimes” was sponsored by Kesher and led by coheads Marissa Lehv ’21 and Evie Happel ’22. Rabbi Rachel Sapphire, of Temple Elohim in Wellesley, helped facilitate the discussion on hate crimes and provided a toolbox of how to deal with hate crimes one may witness. One key distinction made during the workshop was between a hate crime, which involves a criminal action, and a hate incident, which does not. In discussing the swastika that was found in the Music School last fall, many students expressed disappointment in how the School handled the incident.

Another workshop, “Sharing our LGBTQ Experience,” featured several invited panelists who discussed their own experiences. Latin teacher Jacquie Bloomberg, alumna CC Dent ’18, Torin Harris ’21, science teacher and Assistant Head of the Upper School Cindy Welch, Shirley Zhang ’21, and Harvard Business School student Natalia Ortega answered audience questions in an interactive question-and-answer session. Shirley organized the panel because “heterosexual/cisgender people tend to see LGBTQ people as a distant group who is significantly different from themselves.”  She hopes through listening to the various experiences, “people can understand our lives better as normal human beings, who have ups and downs as everyone else does.”

For the workshop “I Know Why She Got In: Debunking College Admissions Myths and Addressing Problematic Assumptions,” Ms. Cara Hanig, Director of College Counseling, sought to unpack everything behind the statement, “I know why she got in,” a statement that often presumes that less-qualified students of color have an unfair advantage. Ms. Hanig spoke about the systemic inequalities in the college process in the United States, standardized testing, the costs of applying to college, and what affirmative action actually is, including legal cases that have sought to eliminate affirmative action.

The workshop “Comedy” run by alumna Nora Panahi ’15 argued that people can use comedy to reclaim negative comments and insults they have heard; the goal, as Nora phrased it, is to use humor to “make their armor.” Nora began the workshop by telling some jokes about herself. When she was at student at Dana Hall, her friend came out as bisexual and was isolated from the rest of her grade because of it. Students then assumed that Nora and her friend were dating, but in a BRIDGE presentation during one Morning Meeting, Nora and her friend decided to make a joke: The friend said that, despite the fact that everyone thought they dating, Nora was really not her type. This little joke had a large ripple effect. It not only gave the room a laugh, it also broke some of the tension with their classmates, and their classmates started to sit with them at lunch again. Nora also showed examples from transgender comedian Erin Spencer, who uses comedy to express who she is as a person and the challenges that she has dealt with through her transition. Sarah Heald ’21, who attended the workshop, said that she “learned how you can express parts of your identity through comedy and making other people laugh.”

“What Do Your Clothes REALLY Cost?” was a workshop presented by the Green Action Committee that was centered on the consequences of “fast fashion” both on our planet and on the people working to make these articles of clothing in sweatshops. The workshop discussed the differences between a linear economy, recycling, and a circular economy. In a circular economy, nothing gets thrown out and put into landfills because the materials continue to be repurposed. The workshop also included videos of factories in Bangladesh that use child labor to produce “fast fashion” items. The Green Action Committee recommended that people shop at environmentally friendly stores and use apps such as Good On You, which enables the user to check how environmentally friendly clothing companies are.

The “Bridging the Generations: A Conversation” workshop was facilitated by Novia Nguyen ’21, Gabby Aracena ’21, and Dawnya Green ’21, who had composed an intergenerational panel of faculty and students. The student panelists, all of whom are Generation Z, were Malak Ahmed ’23, Tori Eysie ’22, Shadan Khalid ’21, and Erin Carney ’20. Of the faculty panelists, Associate Dean of Students Kathy Hamel and science teacher Gary Fadden are Baby Boomers; science teacher Pat Ahn and English teacher Karen Keely are Generation X; and Director of Community, Equity, and Inclusion Erica Ramirez is Generation Y. The panelists of different ages agreed on some statements, such as younger people’s being more open-minded and accepting of different sexual orientations, but other issues elicited generational differences. For example, most of the younger panelists thought that older and younger generations were divided, while none of the adults agreed with this statement. Lenzie Mitchell ’21 found the workshop enlightening, saying that “Hearing the perspectives from both the students and teachers really bridged the age gap and made me realize we are not so different after all, even if each of the different generations did not share many similar experiences.” 

Ms. Ryan noted that the Day of Community Learning, now in its fourth year, is more robust each year: “Because students have been to it now and they have seen how it works, they are more excited to share something, and it becomes very powerful to have a student and faculty member work on something together. Because we’ve had more student participation building up every year, it became more natural.” Her hope is that this day-long series of workshops will create energy for such conversations throughout the year. She commented, “we need to do it more often because I do think that our community is really growing in their abilities to have open conversations and to talk about hard topics, and obviously it’s something you have to practice, but I think there’s more openness to setting up that space” because of the annual Day of Community Learning.

Editors Samiha Farooqi ’20 and Sarah Syed ’20 and reporters Anca Fu ’21, Jasmine Huang ’20, Anna Kurtin ’20, Sophia Lindstrom ’20, Isabel Sullivan ’20, Zoe Szeman ’20, Shayna Tribush ’20, and Megan Wong ’20 contributed to research and writing.

Comments are closed.