More than 100 Brewster students attended Brewster’s Equity Workshops last week, but what might be more impressive than the number is what they took away.
Jaila Richard ’22, a leading member of Brewster’s Black Indigenuous People of Color (BIPOC) Student Union, led the charge in implementing Brewster’s second annual Equity Week in honor of Black History Month. The goal of the week was to both educate our community about critical issues surrounding social justice and to celebrate Black stories.
“I thought that creating a week of workshops that were tailored to educating students on the importance of Black History Month would be the best solution to this crucial part of American History,” said Jaila, acknowledging that there’s often a lack of education around Black culture on prep school campuses. And she put in the work to achieve her goal, spending hours meeting with students and faculty to help plan and create workshops–all the while juggling a number of other commitments and classwork.
The workshops spanned from February 7 through February 15. Ten workshops filled the schedule, eight of which were led by students of all grades. Topics included celebrations of Black people in fashion, STEM, the arts, and culture, as well as important education on African-American Vernacular English, the revolution for Black rights, Science and Pseudoscience, and a Global African Diaspora Panel.
Student leader Elisha-Grace King ’23 kicked off the week in an email outreach to students. In it, she wrote, “Equity Week workshops are a great opportunity to educate yourself in a collaborative environment and support your friends who have worked for weeks on their presentations.”
And Brewster students responded. Less than 24 hours after the sign-ups were sent out, all but three of the workshops booked up completely.
Morgan Johnson ’22, who attended three of the Equity Week sessions, said she chose “African American Vernacular English (AAVE) How Not to Use It” because she was curious about the origin of the words that have become so common in conversation amongst her peers. “I did this workshop last year,” she said, “but I learned so many new things this year as well. Though I may know what AAVE is, there’s still so much I can learn about the origin or new words in the language.” One of the things she learned this year, she said, was that Creole isn’t just one language. “There are multiple Creoles and it is a combination and mixing of two languages,” she said.
“I also attended ‘Black People in Fashion,’ because a majority of the time I’m exposed to fashion, it’s from white people. This was a place where I could learn about black artists who aren’t highlighted from the past and present. These artists have influenced the fashion industry tremendously.” The workshop showcased Black people who have created trends—some of which have even resurfaced—but have never and still aren’t receiving recognition of credit. “A memorable one for me was André Leon Talley, and his work getting Black people featured in fashion publications.”
Jade Hall ’22 and Liam Fahey ’24 led the “Black People in Fashion” workshop, and they felt proud of their efforts.
“Creating the presentation was a really good learning experience for me,” Liam said. “I learned a lot from putting it together and also from doing it with someone who is more knowledgeable than me on the topic. It was great to see people listening at the presentation and showing interest in the topic.”
Workshops took on different formats, ranging from science-packed presentations, to interactive games, to break-out discussions. The students in African-American Studies, taught by Assistant Head of School Dolph Clinton, also contributed by putting on two public debates. The arguments in question included “Should African-American Studies be a required course at high schools across America?” and “Should African Americans receive reparations?”
“The debates were really good,” said Linzy Roberson ’24. “Both debates were really educational. I learned why we should take African-American Studies as a class, because we should learn from our past to make a better future. I also learned about reparations, and how it’s a complicated topic. It’s good to know two sides. I don’t think there’s really a clear right or wrong answer, but more just trying to repair things for the future.”
When asked how her experience was affected by the fact that students led the workshops, Linzy commented, “I think it was better to learn from students than from adults. With adults, you’d think, ‘Oh it’s just another class.’ When your peers are telling you, it's like you’re having a normal conversation. They make it a fun activity instead of feeling like class.”
Linzy’s sentiments highlighted Jaila’s motivation behind having student-led workshops. “These workshops are even more meaningful because it comes from learning from your peers,” said Jaila. “At school, all we do is learn from our teachers. But listening to your peers is more meaningful because teenagers speak the same language. We are able to communicate with each other in a more personable and relatable way.”
As one of the students in the debate, Katie Carey ’22 appreciated the opportunity to help speak and learn with her peers. “I thought it was a really cool experience, and going in and having an audience for our work. It was really clear that people were learning a lot and being educated on the topic,” she said. “I also think having different perspectives is a really important part, because especially in today’s society, people hear opinions and assume they’re true. Being able to see both sides, hearing them argue and counter each other, and then realizing the facts in the end was really cool. Even I learned a lot from seeing the other side’s points.”
The impact of the debates became even more evident after they ended; both audience members and debaters carried on the conversations on their way out the door and into the dining hall that evening. Matt Butcher, Academic Dean, noticed the energy following the event. “I could see the students buzzing about the debates after the fact as they grabbed some food,” he said. “They were still debating and talking through the different issues with each other.”
Despite the fact that Equity Workshops are over, students and faculty alike believe that the work is far from over.
“I really hope that Equity Week continues to happen for many more years,” said Morgan. “The number of lessons that can be taught during this week are endless, and learning about culture is so important. Especially with learning about the culture and history that is so often covered or lied about.”
As Brewster continues to develop and implement programming around DEI work and social justice (including hiring a Director of Diversity of Equity and Inclusion), opportunities for education like Equity Week won’t be disappearing any time soon. Quite the contrary, it’ll continue to expand.
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