Committing to unity, beyond the week


Hannah Katzke, Staff Writer

This year’s Unity Week provided students with the opportunity to learn about their own identities and experiences as well as those of their peers through meaningful conversations. However, it also prompted me to realize that outside of Unity Week, the Speaker Series events, and Seminar on Identity (SOI), identities within the school community are only occasionally discussed at such an extensive level within classrooms. Students and faculty display a diverse array of identities that the school’s community should acknowledge and discuss — regardless of whether it is Unity Week. We should not limit these conversations on identity to four short days of workshops. 

Because it is a time solely dedicated to speaking about you and your peers’ identities, Unity Week is essential to the school’s community. On Tuesday, I attended the Unity Week workshop “Biracialism: Discomfort with Racial Ambiguity.” The workshop primarily addressed society’s desire to fit biracial people into a box, pressuring them to identify themselves. The presenters held a dialogue that acknowledged the frequent dehumanizing questions biracial individuals hear, as a result of  non-biracial people’s need to fit them into a certain mold or stereotype, including “what are you?” and “where are you really from?” 

I was aware of these problems through information I have seen on media sources; however, my classes, for the most part, have never deeply examined biracialism. These issues for biracial people are prevalent, especially in predominantly white institutions. Altering the curriculum to include biracial voices in the historical moments we explore or the books we read would give students a greater understanding of biracialism and the pervasive pressure on biracial people.

Workshops foster an atmosphere in which students can engage with an array of topics pertaining to identity. I hope all students took advantage of the opportunity to attend or host Unity Week workshops, as they work to create a more inclusive environment at the school. But while workshops provide a valuable opportunity to educate one another and acknowledge aspects of our identities, they are not a replacement for extended conversations on identity. Attending workshops and being involved in uncomfortable but necessary discussions both inside and outside of the school is crucial for building both empathy and understanding; it is thus imperative that such a level of engagement occurs throughout the school year. 

Our efforts as students to embrace and understand unity should extend beyond the classroom, whether it takes place in the form of meaningful exchanges with friends or family, research, or extracurricular activities. This week, my advisory spoke about where we feel like we belong and how to encourage inclusivity. Hearing the perspectives of my peers was extremely valuable for me. Students in my advisory expressed how crucial it is to emphasize that others’ opinions are heard and appreciated, in addition to the importance of including one another in conversation. Discussions like these are important and should not be limited to just Unity Week and Unity Week workshops. Therefore, implementing these prompts into advisory every week would be a viable starting point for continuing our thoughtful reflections on unity and identity. 

There are also many opportunities inside and outside of the school, like clubs and affinity spaces, that allow for students to gain different perspectives from people with whom they do not share similar identities. Every other week, I participate on a council made up of students from the school and students from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx. The council is an extension of the Rileys Way Foundation (“a national contest that funds teen-led projects that inspire kindness,” according to their website), where we design projects and discuss issues surrounding race, women’s rights, socioeconomic status, and mental health. It allows students to come together and examine prevalent social justice issues in today’s society, creating an environment that allows for students to hold open conversations pertaining to their identities—similar to Unity Week workshops. My experience as a council member has influenced my advocacy for the school to implement more opportunities to discuss social justice and identity issues on a more intensive scale. 

In order to progress as empathetic people, it is important to acknowledge, listen, and understand the experiences of other people in our school community. Building empathy allows us to place ourselves in one another’s positions and to fully understand someone else’s perspective on an experience. The conclusion of Unity Week does not mean that other strides towards unity within the school should end. I hope that everyone took advantage of the multitude of workshops we had the opportunity to attend and that everyone will continue to participate next year. And that both the students and the school will continue to strive for unity.