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Advisories participate in reflections on diversity

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Advisories participate in reflections on diversity

Katie Goldenberg

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Following the school-wide implications of a racist joke made at a recent SBP Assembly, students and faculty have participated in designated advisory sessions to discuss the impact of the event on the community.
In an email written by Dean of Students Dr. Susan Delanty, the November 14 and 21 advisories were devoted to continuing community conversations “through written personal reflections and shared discussion within the advisory group.” The latter session replaced a previously planned assembly in order to continue the dialogue.
The advisories were an organized effort between the ICIE and the deans to create a built-in space for students to process their thoughts in smaller groups, co- Director of ICIE John Gentile said.
During the first advisory session, students and faculty were asked to write their answers to two questions. The first asked, “What does it mean to be a responsible member of a diverse community?” The second inquired, “What steps can you take in your daily life to ensure that every person’s identity is valued and affirmed here at Horace Mann?” Participants were invited to share their responses with their advisory group to promote conversation amongst peers.
“The question was an opportunity to think of this not as a singular incident. It’s not just about what happened on stage – it’s about the community, the culture we’re creating, and our responsibilities to each other,” Gentile said.
“A written response allows people to collect their thoughts before speaking,” ICIE Associate Sharina Gordon said. “There were a lot of people who wanted that space to talk and process and be heard.”
Over the course of the second advisory session, advisory groups discussed trends in the community’s answers to the written response questions as well as the idea of intent versus impact.
“The November 21st advisory allowed us to let students know that we read every response, we heard their concerns, and we will continue to do our best to ensure that all members of our community feel heard, valued, and respected,” Delanty said.
Students and faculty had mixed reactions regarding the structure and the success of the advisory sessions.
Science teacher Dr. Rachel Mohammed found the writing and discussion within the advisory session to be beneficial in helping students to work out their thoughts, she said.
“Reading the responses from the entire school and discussing them together in our small group let us know the voices of HM students have been heard,” she said. “The responses about ‘moving forward’ resonated with our advisory group.”
Nshera Tutu (9) also found the advisory sessions to be helpful as regulated spaces to talk, she said.
“The discussions we had were thorough, and the advisories allowed us to get our feelings out in a healthy way,” she said.
Ishaan Kannan (10) found the proposed written response questions too broad and ineffective in creating constructive conversation surrounding the assembly’s implications.
“The generality of the questions given during the advisory was an unwillingness to directly acknowledge a sensitive issue,” he said. “By having these mediated discussion sessions, I feel a sense of being controlled.”
Josh Tom (11) also found the provided questions to be unsuccessful in producing productive discussion and found the question to be “too watered down.”
Science teacher Dr. Matthew Wallenfang emphasized to his advisory that “the focus was to be on the broad question of what it means to be a member of a diverse community, and we shouldn’t make it about a specific incident or individual,” he said.
Kannan believes the best way to deal with the issue is individual conversation with peers without the feeling of supervision, he said.
“That’s the real way to have a strong community,” Kannan said.
Tutu believes after-school discussion groups in which students and teachers can come together would be beneficial, she said.
“I was disappointed that other than the Union meeting there were no discussion groups set up for students to talk,” she said. “It allowed some people to take the situation lightly.”
English teacher Jonathan Kotchian liked the writing prompt but suggested more time post-prompt in pairs in his advisory.
“It would be good to let each pair or small group really develop a conversation before bringing it back to the advisory,” he said.
In order to keep facilitating discussion, Gordon suggests that students maintain the conversation with their peers as well as continue to reflect on their words and actions.
“These conversations are about creating a community where we can have those difficult discussions with humanity and tact,” Gentile said. “Disagreement should be a beautiful beginning, not a fearful end.”

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Advisories participate in reflections on diversity