Although we encourage critical thinking every day here at GFS, this week's student-led, full-day teach-in on race for the entire Upper School offered a fresh and challenging experience. As Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, one of the faculty leads, explained, "A teach-in is purposefully disruptive. This is about learning by being in it."
A team of Upper School students, with support from faculty and staff, spent months devising the content of the day, with the goal being to encourage students to think deeply, from an intersectional standpoint, about the ways in which race impacts both students of color and white students at GFS.
The day's work was framed by "working agreements," which outlined the desired framework for participation, including "Respectfully challenge one another by asking questions, but refrain from personal attacks—focus on ideas" and "Lean into discomfort."
Students began the day with an experience designed to help people empathize with those who are different from themselves. Based on whether students had brown eyes or blue eyes, students were sorted into groups, and the facilitators treated all brown-eyed students preferentially while actively disparaging the blue-eyed students. After the experience, students were debriefed via queries.
Following Marisa Williamson ‘04 sharing her art with students during the Cohen Art Lecture, afternoon workshops addressed racism and allyship.
The next workshop experience focused on the ways in which systemic racism has an impact on everyone by talking about overt and covert racism. Overt racism refers to racism that is out in the open and easily identifiable, and covert racism is harder to discern; it's the subtle everyday manifestation of systemic racism, such as how many commercial products, such as cosmetics and band-aids, cater to light skin tones as a default. Covert racism also plays into code-switching, wherein someone changes the expression of their racial identity (through speech, mannerisms, and body language) to make a dominant group feel less threatened and more comfortable.
Layah Taylor '18, one of the student facilitators, explained that the band-aid example of covert racism really opened a lot of students' eyes. "We asked kids about finding band-aids that matched their skin tone. The dominant color is ‘nude,’ which matches white skin, and a lot of kids of color couldn't find a match. We talked a lot about the underlying racism."
Later in the afternoon, students engaged in a workshop where they explored the roles of ally, accomplice, and actor. They acted out scenarios based on actual events that have taken place at GFS, and discussed honestly how they would have reacted in those scenarios. Would they be an actor (someone who does not disrupt the status quo), an ally (someone whose actions challenge institutional racism), or an accomplice (someone whose actions directly impede racist people, structures, and policies)? Students and faculty were challenged to take on active roles that would make meaningful progress towards racial justice.
The day concluded with Worship Sharing. Aaron Preetam, one of the faculty leads, commented, "I was moved by the truths and testimonials that were spoken in each phase of the teach-in. Students and faculty shared with each other in ways that one could not imagine, and from that sharing, fostered a greater sense of inclusivity and social justice on our campus. I am proud to work in a school that truly lives its diversity, equity, and inclusion philosophy."
Student Leaders: Nile Bayard '18, Layah Taylor '18, Sam Pancoe '18, Emmanuel Jones '18, Sanaa DeBose '19
Fac/Staff Committee: Aaron Preetam, Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, Natasha Labbé, Mark Anderson, Michelle Palmer, Duane Michelle Sims