Community Members Reflect on a Virtual Day of Social Justice Learning

Students had numerous workshop options on the Social Justice Teach-In Day on Feb. 9. Screenshot from GDS website.

The theme of this year’s Social Justice Teach-In Day was “Living Our Mission.” The keynote speaker and many of the workshops of the program’s first ever virtual rendition focused on promoting anti-racism in the community.  To GDS administrators, the annual Social Justice Teach-In Day is an opportunity to instill a drive for social justice in students. Students who spoke with the Bit said they appreciate the tradition but think that it sometimes misses the mark.

As members of the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion team, Campbell Keyser and Guyton Matthews planned the Teach-In Day, which took place on Feb. 9. Keyser and Matthews thought that it was important to find a dynamic keynote speaker who would be captivating despite the online setting. They settled on Dr. Bettina Love, a Black award-winning author and professor at the University of Georgia.

Keyser said, “The main thing that we wanted to do is make sure that the integrity of our Teach-In Days was still there, that the format stayed close enough to what we’ve been doing in the past to still make it a meaningful time for students.” 

History teacher Carlos Angulo appreciated Love’s passion and enthusiasm, as well as her emphasis on celebrating the achievements, culture and perseverance of African Americans. “I felt like she really delivered a lot of positive messages that could be used in our community to address anti-racism and really elevate the discussion,” Angulo said. 

Junior Maddie Feldman also enjoyed Love’s talk, but there were some points that Love made that she didn’t completely agree with, including what she recalled as Love’s suggestion that racism against Asian Americans was something of the past. “I think that sort of dismisses a lot of current racism that affects such a broad range of people,” Feldman said. (Matthews told the Bit via email that Love’s contract with GDS barred them from recording her keynote speech.)

Freshman Avram Shapiro, who has participated in the middle school’s Social Justice Teach-In Days, said that every year he’s always very interested to hear the keynote speaker’s perspective. However, he does believe that some changes could be made regarding how the keynote speaker is chosen. He suggested that the DEI team choose speakers with contrasting viewpoints to make the speeches more interesting.

After the keynote speech, students and teachers participated in a wide variety of workshops. Holder facilitated one called “BlackatGDS: Antiracism at our Institution.” When asked why she wanted to facilitate that workshop, she said, “I’ve gone through the account multiple times and I’ve looked at all their posts. I thought their stories were inspiring and painful.” 

Feldman led a workshop called “Lobbying Training for DC Statehood.” It informed students about the fight for D.C. statehood and prepared them to lobby senators and representatives about D.C. statehood legislation in the future. She said, “We wanted students to be able to take away something really actionable, really tangible direct action.” 

When asked about his experience with his workshops, Shapiro said, “I definitely appreciate it, and I’m glad that we do it, but usually I don’t learn a whole lot from the workshops.” He said the hour long sessions don’t provide enough time to dive into such complex topics. 

One of the workshops he attended was called “Racism and White Feminism: The Problem and Some Solutions.” Shapiro expressed frustration that the workshop focused on blatant racism, something he says he has little direct experience with, instead of microaggressions, which he said is “the kind of anti-racism work that GDS could probably improve on.” To do this kind of anti-racism work, Shapiro suggested that the workshops become more nuanced and address racism from different perspectives.

Keyser, for her part, said she thought the day achieved its goal. She was inspired by “seeing our students become teachers and become educators and become advocates”—if only for a day.