Northwest calls itself a social justice school. While we are on the way to achieving that title, we take steps everyday. Days of learning are a way that our school educates about issues of social justice and engages students in the work.
We had our first Day of Learning of this year on October 26th. Students participated in two different workshops led by faculty members as well as over an hour of affinity spaces to process the day with people of a same identifier. Many social justice issues are not talked about enough at Northwest, that were covered in the Day of Learning. This day was made to bring light to those issues and educate people on how to prevent and respond to them.
I sent a form to the school to get insight on students’ opinions of the Days of Learning. Some workshops students found especially beneficial included the mixed race panel and microaggressions workshop.
Many people had issues with the second half of the Day of Learning that were expressed through the survey to the students. A lot of people felt the mask activity in affinity groups was enforcing stereotypes. Many thought it would’ve been better to have a discussion or write down what we learned, instead of doing this activity. Many students also thought that the day needed more student representation and leadership, which happened for MLK day.
Students shared that the mixed race panel was helpful for learning new things they were not aware of before. This panel was a great way for students of all identities to learn about things that affect mixed race people that are commonly overlooked. Leaders of this workshop wanted to show how mixed-race students and faculty share an identity and also differ from each other – and how they differ from people who identify as single-race.
In an interview with Rachel Fumia, a faculty leader of the mixed-race panel workshop, she shared the behind the scenes of this workshop. “There is so much to talk about with people who identify as two or more races, and it felt useful to be able to talk about so that people who don’t understand the experience(s) can start to hear a different perspective,” Rachel said. Rachel was glad about the response to her workshop, and is excited to be teaching the Northwest School about the unique experiences mixed-race people undergo. She is also very excited about the addition of a mixed-race affinity space this year led by Araiza S. ‘23 and Hazel M. ‘27.
The microaggressions workshop examined examples of indirect or subtle racism and their effects, as well as their presence at NWS. Microaggressions affect so many people with different identifiers, and are an often overlooked form of discrimination. This workshop taught students what microaggressions are and how to avoid them. It also covered how to respond if you hear a student or friend say insensitive comments or jokes, and how to take responsibility when you do or say something hurtful.
In an interview with one of the faculty leaders of the workshop Catalina Martinez talked about why she chose to teach about microaggressions, and its takeaways. When asked why she wanted to lead this workshop Catalina stated: “I chose this topic because I believe that more than overt racism, what our students experience at school are microaggressions.” Hearing microaggressions is common at such a privileged school, making it even more important to teach and educate our community on this topic. Teaching students and teachers how to recognize microaggressions and their harm helps to make our community safer for minority students.
Our second day of learning this year was on January 13th, the Friday before Martin Luther King Junior Day. This day sought to honor the legacy of MLK and other advocates of racial justice. This Day of Learning was dedicated to educating about issues of racism within our community and the world at large. The day had different workshops in the morning that were led by students, as well as affinity spaces that had their own workshops and activities. The day ended with a grade level meeting and a movie with a discussion.
Many Northwest students expressed through the form I sent that the ableism workshop showed them new perspectives and taught them a lot about the ways ableism shows up at Northwest. This workshop demonstrated the ways in which ableism is overlooked in our society, especially in such a privileged school like Northwest. One Northwest student shared their opinions on the workshop: “I learned that there are many different ways in which someone could be able or unable to do something. That could be financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, etc. I learned a lot about my fellow NWS peers and teachers; it was an open space where people could be vulnerable and listened to.”
Students also said the Antisemitic Conspiracies workshop was beneficial. This workshop educated students on how Jewish people are discriminated against in the past and in the present. It covered stereotypes, negative conspiracy theories, and the history of antisemitism and anti-Jewish hate. “I learned a lot about antisemitism that happens around the world,” said one student. “I was unaware of a lot of it actually so as someone who is Jewish it was really surprising for me to hear.”
We only have a few school days each year dedicated solely to this work, and it is so important to get as much out of it as you can. Immersing ourselves in these workshops and putting effort into learning is the only way we will be able to make the right steps. Listening to peers, participating in discussion, and focusing on getting things out of workshops is a good way to start the process. Continuing the work on your own and outside of the Days of Learning is crucial to achieve change. “This work is hard and messy but we need to do it and think more about accepting discomfort,” says a Northwest student about key takeaways from MLK day.
For people that expressed that they did not get anything out of these days, or even chose not to attend them, I strongly encourage you to learn about these issues on your own time and reflect on how refusing to engage with said issues perpetuates harm within and outside of our community.