“Some people think that MLK Day is an opportunity to take the day off. But look to the people sitting to your right, to your left, in front of you, and behind you. One thing you may notice is that we are in a room with people from all over the world, who are of different races and ethnicities, who practice different religions, who have learning differences, who speak English as a second language, and much, much more,” Chris Brown, Dean of DEI, said to the Brewster community at a special All-School on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After reading from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he continued, “He was talking about this. He was talking about us, all of us, being able to be in the same space, learn from the same books, participate in the same groups, successfully.”
Dean Brown posed this perspective to the student body before turning the podium over to students from his African American Studies class, who shared a presentation that highlighted Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights Movement. The week prior, students in the class researched key events and leaders in the fight for equality. Then, working in small groups, they put together slides to help promote awareness to the rest of the student body.
The celebration of MLK Day didn’t stop with one presentation. Far from it. Students engaged with topics surrounding his work and the theme of equality throughout the school day on Monday as teachers of all subjects found ways to incorporate the legacy of Dr. King in their lesson plans.
In English classes, students analyzed and discussed literary works with themes of equality. Students in Mrs. Katy Varga-Wells’ AP Language and Composition watched Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, pulled out key quotes, and synthesized key themes. In Mr. Rob Olive’s Elements of Literature class, students read and reflected on a piece by Romantic-era poet Percy Shelley, whose work inspired Gandhi to adopt non-violent resistance.
Students in Mrs. Amy Hill’s art classes paused their current projects to create a piece of art for a special MLK Art Installation. Focusing on the theme “impact,” students researched various events in the Civil Rights movement and the accomplishments of Dr. King. They then created mixed media depictions representing the lasting impact of King's work and the world we live in today. Their work is now on display in the lower level of the Grayson Student Center.
This theme of impact also made its way into the sciences. In Mrs. Michelle Dodge’s biology class, for example, students found themselves studying research studies that targeted marginalized groups and raised ethical concerns. As students compared their respective cases, they considered questions like “What was fair or not fair in these research studies?” and “How should participants expect to be treated?” The questions quickly sparked insight into how participants were unfairly treated because of their race.
Meanwhile, students in Ms. Cailey Mastrangelo’s Spanish classes dove into issues of privilege around language. After watching a video showcasing a student’s story of having to learn at a school that didn’t use his first language, the class talked about how language differences can impact someone’s experience.
“Think about how some of you feel when I speak to you in Spanish and you don’t really understand what’s going on,” Ms. Mastrangelo said. “That’s the experience of many people at Brewster and in the real world.”
These are just a few of the many classes that incorporated social justice themes into their curriculum. Economics classes looked at the impact of race in investing and government aid; psychology discussed the roots of prejudice in social psychology; Algebra classes applied mathematical concepts to investigate the biases in educational funding.
And while all of these classes might seem different from one another, it’s in this diversity that students were able to make connections and see how extensive the impact of Dr. King’s work is to this day.
On Tuesday, students gathered in their Academic Teams to reflect on what they learned on Monday. Advisors and Team Leaders led rich discussions that had students thinking about equity versus equality, what inclusivity looks like at Brewster, and what they personally do to make an impact on our Brewster community.
“I was impressed with how much thought our students put into the discussion and reflections,” Team Leader Alicia Wingard said. “They really got into the questions and took them seriously, and it showed in their reflections.”
The reflections she’s referring to are answers the students wrote on an online discussion board. Some of Team Wingard students’ answers included:
“I define equality as a state of being equal, wherein all persons are offered the same services and assistance, regardless of need. However, in some cases equality is often not the answer. Rather, equity should be introduced, wherein different persons should be offered those services that they may need, with differing services being offered to different people with different needs.”
“In order to reach equality as a nation, equity is needed. Because some members of society have been treated so poorly for so long, those same people need to be given advantage in some areas in order to reach equality.”
As for the question about their role on campus, students’ repeatedly mentioned the need for respect, inclusivity, and kindness toward one another regardless of how someone looks.
This critical work of building our awareness around social justice may have been the focus on January 16, but it certainly doesn’t stop there for Brewster. We understand that the fight for equality goes far beyond a single day––which is why these topics are integrated into everyday curriculum, included in dorm discussions, and highlighted throughout the year with specific programming. Furthermore, a DEIJ Task Force and Strategy Team are both working diligently to grow and improve areas of need at Brewster.
But, while there’s a lot of work to be done, we still appreciate the opportunity to celebrate the impact of Dr. King’s work in getting us here. As Dean Brown told our students on Monday, “Dr. King did not die for anyone to have a day off. He died in an effort to accomplish what we see in this room right now. And the way I see it, the best way to celebrate and honor his work and efforts, is to learn together.”
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