On Tuesday, Feb. 7, regular school activities were paused for the annual Social Justice Teach-In Day. Students and faculty attended workshops, listened to a guest speaker and watched a hip-hop dance performance.
The event was organized by director of diversity, equity and inclusion Marlo Thomas and Program Associate for DEI Guyton Mathews. The goal of the teach-in day was to spread awareness and educate members of the community about various aspects of social justice, Mathews told the Bit.
This year, the theme of the teach-in day was the interconnectedness of humanity, which Mathews described as “looking at different cultures and how we’re connected.” Planning for the event began in the summer, and the theme was confirmed in late fall. A theme is chosen for the teach-in day each year. Past themes have included tasteful journeys and the act of activism.
In 2018, the day of programming was renamed from the Martin Luther King Jr. Teach-In Day to the Social Justice Teach-In Day. “Not only are we honoring MLK, but other civil rights leaders, other activists,” Mathews said. Thomas added that changing the name acknowledges the movements of other activists, not just Martin Luther King Jr.
Shamil Idriss, the CEO of Search for Common Ground and GDS parent, was the keynote speaker in the morning. Idriss’ presentation detailed his organization’s efforts to prevent conflict, such as helping broker the Iranian nuclear deal and improving community–police relations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Sophomore Khari Bell told the Bit that he appreciated the speaker and the topics he discussed. He added that it is “refreshing” to be in a school that brings in outside speakers to talk about diversity and real-world issues.
Workshops led by students, faculty, parents and others were held during the day following the keynote speaker. The workshops focused on a range of social justice issues. Attendees who were not leading a workshop participated in two workshops. In addition, Idriss hosted a masterclass during lunch, where students could learn more about his organization.
Senior Waleed Saleh led a workshop along with junior Lina Fawaz. “We discussed living under occupation and the Palestinian experience, which is something that’s not talked about at GDS a lot,” Saleh said. Both sessions of the Life Under Occupation workshop were completely filled. “Sometimes it’s really hard to get students to participate in these sorts of things but a lot of people were interested in talking about it and asked us a lot of questions about our experience as Palestinians living in the school,” he said
Saleh found Idriss interesting and engaging but disagreed with him on a few key points. “I think some of the things he said are a little idealistic, especially about building trust over time. There’s a lot of opportunities where that can’t happen,” Saleh said.
Juniors Jordan Quint and Ewan Porter and senior Jaia Wilensky were selected as the three student coordinators by Thomas and Mathews a few weeks before the teach-in day. They each applied and interviewed for the role and were chosen out of nine applicants, Mathews said. “I had to make sure the whole event ran smoothly, with catering and other stuff,” Quint said of his role.
This was the first Social Justice Teach-In Day with student coordinators. In Dec. 2022, Mathews sent an email to the juniors and seniors, announcing the launch of the Social Justice Teach-In Day Coordinator program. “This program will give three students the opportunity to partner with our office to develop, plan, and advertise our Social Justice Teach-In Days,” Mathews wrote in his email. He also wrote that the positions were only open to juniors and seniors, and each coordinator would receive 25 service hours.
In past years, Shakeara Pardner, the Program Coordinator for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has helped organize the teach-in days, but this year, she has been out on maternity leave.
The student coordinators were also responsible for the organization of the middle school teach-in day. “I helped get some kids into their workshops, show them where to go,” Quint said. “That was a little more hectic with little kids but they loved it. They were super enthusiastic about it excited to go to their workshops,” he added.
For the afternoon performance, the Ladies of Hip Hop, a group of female hip hop dancers from New York, performed for students and faculty in the high school black box. “Last year we had two keynotes rather than a performance, and the year before that obviously was virtual,” Mathews said.
Bell told the Bit that he enjoyed the Ladies of Hip Hop performance “I know a few of my friends got pictures with them,” he said. “It was just a fun experience.”
Mathews and Thomas said they’d received positive feedback about the event. Thomas was pleased with both the keynote speaker and the hip hop performance’s recognition of diversity and social justice. “This was my favorite teach in day in the five years I’ve been here,” she said.