School Celebrates Unity Week


Ariella Frommer, Staff Writer

“Unity week is valuable because it’s about bringing together people with particularly diverse experiences, and sharing these stories is essential for creating a unified community, both intellectually and emotionally” Avery Lin (12) said. Students and faculty had the opportunity to attend and host workshops on different topics relating to identity during the annual Unity Week. 

“Unity Week remains a week at HM dedicated to having conversations and sharing knowledge on identity,” Director of the office of Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity (ICIE) Christine Moloney said. Workshops come in a variety of forms including film screenings, guided activities, and facilitated discussion on certain topics, she said. 

The first Unity Week was in 2015. In past years, Unity Week had a theme, but this year the theme solely surrounds unity, Moloney said. “This broad theme allows people with a wide range of identity interests to lead such a diverse selection of workshops throughout the week,” she said.

The lack of a specific theme enabled English teacher Jennifer Little’s class workshop to not drive their conversation to one conclusion, Lin said. “We were exploring a lot of different avenues of connections, but we weren’t limited by using one framework of reference to format a discussion,” she said.

The ICIE Office held many meetings throughout the fall to gather information on Unity Week in the past and discuss best practices to ensure success this year, Moloney said. They met with Music Department Chair Timothy Ho, who runs Music Week, Library Chair Caroline Bartels, who runs Book Day, Head of Upper Division Jessica Levenstein, Registrar Chris Garrison, Dean of Students Michael Dalo, and many teachers who had played a role in Unity Week over the years. Then, the ICIE collected schedules and were able to orchestrate a smooth rollout throughout the first weeks of January thanks to the help of everyone in the Upper Division.

The purpose of Unity Week is to connect with the community by sharing information and opinions on different identities that possibly are not recognized as much, Lin Egan (10) said. “We can also hear about various issues that are obviously important and it comes at a time where students and teachers can understand these things together,” she said. 

Both students and teachers had the opportunity to lead workshops this week. The Seminar on Identity (SOI) class, that all juniors took the first semester, offered the option of running a workshop that related to one of the identities that they had learned throughout the year. This option was given to the juniors before winter break, allowing them to have more than enough time to create these different workshops, Zhara Motwani (11) said.

“[Students] can have an opportunity to share something important to them and maybe encourage others to find it important too,” Little said, “Teaching others is also the best way to learn.”

Little’s Seminar in Literary Studies class for twelfth grade students led a workshop on the analysis of scenes from the film “Get Out” through the lens of African American literary theorists. The class focuses on identity-based literary theories, so there is overlap between the course and Unity Week ideas, she said. 

The students in my class were excited to share what we have just been studying, and the fact that we had just watched a movie that lots of students know and would like to talk about was perfect,” she said. Furthermore, preparing for the presentation was a great alternative to writing an essay, she said. 

Lin, a student in Little’s class, helped lead a workshop for her first time during this year’s Unity Week, she said. “To be able to make that experience for listeners that’s so closely tied to what we’ve done in class was something special.”

Preparing the presentation was engaging because the whole class was interested in the movie they were talking about, Lin said. “We got to appreciate it as a movie and a really effective work of art but also see how it encapsulates so many of these like themes that we’ve been dealing with in class.” 

Some teachers chose to take their students to workshops during class time. Math teacher Benjamin Kafoglis took Egan’s class to “What’s shade got to do with it?” a workshop on colorism in the media, and science teacher Lisa Scott took Egan’s class to “Biracialism: Discomfort and Ambiguity.” 

As a math teacher, Kafoglis normally sees his students talking about math, so he does not always get to see other sides of his students, he said. “Many of my students shared experiences and ideas around colorism they see in their own life, and I loved that I got to hear those thoughts,” he said.  

Both workshops were well led; one was led by a teacher and one by a student, Egan said. “The one led by a student was slightly more interactive and opened the floor to more discussion because the space felt more casual,” she said. 

Motwani said that Unity Week was a great opportunity to learn about different identities that she would not have learned about otherwise. She also was able to take advantage of Unity Week by hosting a workshop of her own, focusing on American Sign Language. “Unity Week allowed me to create my own workshop, which ended up turning into the base of my upcoming club. My workshop allows me to spread factual information on ASL, which is a large part of many people’s identity but is sometimes overlooked,” she said. 

Harris attended the workshop led by Louise Kim (11) on radical love in the time of capitalism with his French class, he said. “Hearing everyone’s responses showed me how other people think of a very personal topic,” he said. 

Other than workshops, all UD students engaged in Unity Week by completing reflection cards during advisory. Students were asked to answer one of two questions: “How do you make others feel like they belong?” or “When do you feel like you belong?” Then, the ICIE office created the Unity Week bulletin board that showcases student’s responses. 

It is important to stay engaged with the topics after workshops, Egan said. “Post workshop, I’ll definitely reflect on the matters, and talk to peers about it,” she said.

Moloney hopes students take away new perspectives and information as well as learn about each other, she said. “The more connections we can create, the stronger our division will be.”