Upper Schoolers Plan and Host Black Lives Matter Week of Action

Organized by the Intercultural Student Association (ISA), Upper Schoolers this week participated in Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. Upper School students of all grades took part in a series of workshops to help think about the role race can play in our school's daily interactions, policies, and systems.

“Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action came to OES thanks to the awesome leadership of Dr. Dyan Watson,” said Upper School Librarian Erika Jelinek, who helped organize the event. “At the beginning of the year she tasked [Upper School Science Teacher and Winningstad Chair for Science and Engineering] Taposhi [Biswas] and I, as the new faculty advisors for ISA, with rallying our student activists to pioneer the first-ever Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action for OES, and the kids definitely rose to the challenge.”

ISA members worked all semester to put together a series of workshops to help the Upper School community think about the role race plays in our school—tailored specifically to OES.

“It is so important for the Upper School community to acknowledge and celebrate BLM Week of Action because of all the hard work communities have exerted in order to bring about great change, justice, and equality,” ISA member and organizer Zara S. ‘23 said. “Through this celebration and acknowledgment of this social change, OES can become one of these communities fighting for what is right.”

One workshop was called Hesitation to Speak where students used case studies to consider why people hesitate to speak up when they witness injustice. In a different workshop, titled Student Interactions, students discussed different kinds of interactions on campus through the lens of racial and cultural identity.

“Our goal was to bring the momentum of the movement into our school, with education being an obvious facet of racial justice activism,” Jelinek said. “As we dug into the topic, we decided that we wanted our approach to be firmly grounded within our own community.”

The group put together a couple of case studies based on racism witnessed and experienced at OES. In the workshops, students grappled with how to address the issues presented.

“This was important to us because the idea that racism doesn't happen at OES has been a roadblock to progress, just as it has been in our country,” Jelinek said. “We wanted to highlight these hidden stories of racism at OES, to bring them into the light and make them visible, because you can't even begin to fix a problem unless you actually look at it.”

On Wednesday, the Upper School welcomed back Cierra Kaler-Jones for the third in a series of four Equity and Inclusion workshops. Building on the discussions from the previous sessions on stock stories and concealed stories, the session explored resistance stories through the lens of the full story of Rosa Parks.

“For me, a real moment of joy has been actually seeing our student leaders in action, both in the big all-school presentation and in our lunchtime case study workshops,” Jelinek said. “They have been working so hard, and seeing it all come together in an impactful way despite the myriad challenges of virtual school in a pandemic has been inspiring.”

Without Culture Shock this year, ISA students were tasked with finding alternative and continuous ways of learning, discussing, and taking action around race and social justice.

“I asked ISA to use BLM at School Week of Action to introduce a new way of learning and thinking about ideas related to equity, injustice, race, and other social locators,” Director for Inclusion Dyan Watson said. “And this was a very good start. I'm not sure what will happen next year, but perhaps this could be a new tradition.”

“My favorite part about this week was getting to interact with peers and those I am not familiar with on a deeper level regarding a much-needed topic,” Zara concluded. “Through these events, we have grown closer as a community during a time of hardship and adversity.”

Photo courtesy of www.blacklivesmatteratschool.com.