Student Activism in Dana Hall’s History

So far in the 2017-2018 school year, there has been an upswing of student activism at Dana Hall as well as in the bigger community in the US. From #blacklivesmatter to the recent national walkout for gun control, students, especially high school students, have been actively involved in political and social movements, making their voices heard and considered. Dana students, in particular, have demonstrated great level of participation in various activities and protests, taking big steps to mark their own legacy in the history of Dana Hall.


I was fortunate to discuss student activism with Ms. Corrigan, Dana Hall’s Dean of Residential Life and International Student Advisor, who has been at Dana Hall for more than twenty years. As soon as I mentioned this issue, she remarked that we, the younger generation, are “making a comeback.” “Students nowadays are more involved in the process of making changes, particularly seen in the last four to five years,” Ms. Corrigan states. Despite the fact that different students have passions and interests in different areas, such as diversity, sustainability, LGBT equality, politics and government, health and safety, or social justice movements, many students take part in different activism events with the hope of making some changes, and this is what connects all activist students together.


“The young generation reminds me of the 60s,” Ms. Corrigan said with a smile. Because there is so much going on in our world every day, students are motivated to participate as strong, independent activists. The world is ever-changing, and young movements are established because “people want to see some changes and get involved to make it happen,” Ms. Corrigan said. Dana students, indeed, are involved and are also able to protest and speak for themselves in a respectful way.


According to Ms. Corrigan, one significant change in student activism throughout her years at Dana is the way in which students want to be involved. Nowadays, the internet plays a crucial role in our everyday life and gives us a huge benefit. The fact that it is widespread contributes to why we are seeing and hearing more stories of activism every day: before it was only word of mouth, petitions, and boycotts. “The internet is taking it to a new level,” Ms. Corrigan says. In whatever the activist movement involves, people are more aware and have better access to the information they need.


I also had a chance to talk to Mr. Goodson from the Social Studies Department. He teaches a class called Making History where he and his students research, collecting speeches, photographs, and articles about the past events of Dana and consider what should be put in the school archives to remember in the future. When I asked Mr. Goodson about past student activism, he examined this issue from two main aspects: students’ empowerment/activism and protests. “There are lots of examples for activism,” Mr. Goodson said. Even in the early 1900s, a group of Dana Hall students petitioned the Head of School, Ms. Cooke, to create a post-graduate (PG) year or two-year program. In this case, students petitioned because what they wanted was something beyond Dana’s offering and they made it happen. In fact, this program created by our school later became Pine Manor College–a private, liberal arts college located in Chestnut Hill, MA.


Later, students were also very active in supporting the war efforts during both World War I and World War II. According to Mr. Goodson, students were “members of the American Red Cross, joining clubs and raising money to buy ambulances.” His description gives us a glimpse of students empowerment back in the early 1900s where Dana girls were trying to see the world and make a difference, which is much like what we are striving for now.


Protests, on the other hand, were big in the 1970s. In response to the Vietnam War, there were many student protests, especially in Kent and jackson State Universities in Ohio, where students stood up and spoke for the injustice behind ordering troops around without approval. “Dana Hall students were angry… They couldn’t vote but witnessed their boyfriends or friends sent to war without asking,” Mr. Goodson said. As a result, during “Fathers Visiting Day” (similar to Parents Weekend) many seniors refused to go to class on that day and instead made a protest in Beveridge. As stated by Mr. Goodson, “students were encouraged to have conversations with their fathers, recorded,” and there is a transcript available today, putting on record their conversations about the war, voting rights, policies, killings, how to protest, and what voice do they have when they can’t vote.


At that point, students came to a realization that protests had become too violent; they, too, were wondering themselves how they should affect social changes despite the violence of those protests. And here comes the momentous event: as a result, an event called a “Teach-In” was created, where school was stopped for three full days, including two days on the weekends. Similar to our Community Day of Learning, “there were movies, lectures, panel discussions, debates regarding the presidential power… and students were supporting this,” Mr. Goodson said. Dana Hall was so proud of the students that this protest became the title story of the alumni magazine and they published the transcript of the discussion as well as the agenda of the Teach-In, promoting student activism among the entire community.


At the end of our conversation, Mr. Goodson emphasized the need for all of us to appreciate this part of the Dana Hall history. “No other schools in the New England region had this kind of protest,” he said proudly. “It is an important legacy of being a school where we care about empowering women, and we should be proud of that. This is what power looks like.”

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