The 2021 Georgetown Day School Policy Institute boasted a 45-fellow strong cohort of committed students, who for four weeks this summer tackled five critical issues impacting families in the Washington, DC area and communities around the world. Before delving into creating their own action plans, they connected with experts in their fields and visited historic landmarks to garner a true understanding of the issue they were studying.
Learn how the students connected with others to become experts in their own right for this year’s five tracks :
- Addressing Sexual Assault and Consent
- Environmental Justice
- Life Resettled
- The Gun Debate
- Waging Life in the DMV
Watch this year’s 6-minute Policy Institute video to see the students in the field and hear their reflections on the experience first-hand. Thanks to 2021 Policy Institute intern Max Grosman ’22 for producing the video, following the five tracks, and telling the stories of learning and advocacy.
Addressing Sexual Assault and Consent
Members of the Addressing Sexual Assault and Consent track met with attorneys, advocates, and service providers as they worked to develop an understanding of existing systems that either perpetuate or combat sexual assault.
The fellows in this track met with lawyers from the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Department of the United States Attorney's Office of the District of Columbia. They participated in mock trials, acting as Assistant U.S. Attorneys and members of a jury. Fellows also met with a victim’s advocate and watched a livestream of a preliminary court hearing.
They met with local civil rights lawyer Ari Wilkenfeld, a trial attorney with more than 20 years of experience. Again, they participated in mock trials, this time exploring the contentious Tara Reid/Joe Biden sexual assault case, its nuances, and its broader implications.
Next they met with Cheyenne Tyler Jacobs—a community organizer, author, and 2020 GDS Consent Summit keynote speaker—to learn about intersectionality, poetry, and social norms. Cheyenne is also a poetic activist. Later, fellows met with Michelle Dagne, the coordinator for victim advocacy services at American University's (AU) Health Promotion and Advocacy Center. Students discussed topics relating to sexual assault on campus and programs AU uses to educate students around assault and consent.
Finally, the consent track fellows had the opportunity to meet with Christeen Badie from DC Forensic Nurse Examiners (DCFNE) and Gilda Goldental from Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC). In the session, students learned about how DCFNE and NVRDC partner to support surviors of sexual assault as they navigate the medical and legal proccesses.
At each turn, the Environmental Justice track backed up classroom learning with up-close-and-proximate experiences during which students considered the real-world impact of environmental policy.
They visited a wastewater treatment plant in Lorton, VA, learning about the treatment and re-introduction of wastewater in our communities.
Another day, they partnered with Anacostia Watershed Society to weed, trim, and water the approximately 80 trees at the Suitland metro stop. This work is one of the many upstream activities contributing to the restoration of the Anacostia River ecosystems for the benefit of local and downstream residents.
While fellows were unable to squeeze in a visit to Ecuador, they did have a chance to host Callie Broaddus, the founder and executive director of Reserva, a nonprofit youth land trust committed to creating an entirely youth-funded nature reserve in Chocó, Ecuador. They talked with Callie about environmental activism and the power young people have on the continued existence of threatened species and habitats—or their extinction. Learn more at https://reservaylt.org/
Finally, fellows joined the Life Resettled Track to visit Hope Butler-Khodaei and “Uncle Rico” Newman for a trip through indigenous landmarks in the DMV. On their visit to Piscataway National Park, they stepped into a witchoot (longhouse) after an introductory pottery session. They also explored an archaeological dig site where researchers are studying remains beneath the ruins of St. Mary’s Fort, a colonial settlement (circa 1663), which was built on top of a 9,000-year-old Indigenous settlement. Lastly, our fellows enjoyed trying to throw an atlatls (a spear-like stick) and even sewed medicine pouches on the bus while talking to Uncle Rico as he spoke in Algonquin.
At the start of the Life Resettled track, fellows toughed out the 97-degree heat on a six-mile canoe trip to Conoy Island, Maryland, a Piscataway settlement. They learned from several guides, including Hope Butler-Khodaei and her daughter, Sheyda, about local indigenous peoples, indigenous lands, and indigenous rights.
Fellows cooked with chef Ibrahim Smahri, a member of the GDS Meriwether Godsey dining team, who was born in Casablanca, Morocco. He came to the United States in 2003 on a green card, working for the Marriott kitchen team at a large hotel in Virginia. Before the cooking lesson, fellows went shopping for ingredients at Khartoum Halal Bakkal in Adams Morgan. Chef Ibrahim guided the Life Resettled track through making chicken and vegetable kebabs with saffron rice and tzatziki, a traditional Moroccan dish, while he talked about his resettlement story.
Finally, as mentioned above, fellows joined the Environmental Justice track to visit Hope Butler-Khodaei and “Uncle Rico” Newman for a trip through indigenous landmarks in the DMV. The Waging Life in the DMV track partnered with the Life Resettled track to learn about the history of culturally diverse communities in Washington, DC through a foodways exploration. The tracks engaged with small business owners on a food tour of U Street and Little Ethiopia. They visited The Fainting Goat, Half Smoked, and Appioo. Later, they learned more about the history of U Street and Little Ethiopia as well as the legacy of landmarks such as the GDS alumni family-owned Ben's Chili Bowl on DC history!
Members of the Gun Debate track visited The Limestone of Lost Legacies Memorial, a Southeast DC mural that honors the memory of five teenagers whose lives were taken due to gun violence in the city. Fellows spoke with Lauryn Renford and Alexis Jones, leaders of pathways2power, a student activism group based out of Thurgood Marshall High School.
They also visited the Baltimore Museum of Military History, the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, and the USS Constellation. At the military museum, fellows learned about military history—the history of weapons, the history of certain military engagements, and the psychology behind the assignment of guns to soldiers—from museum docents.
In the wax museum, fellows surveyed iconic elements of African American culture from prior to 1700 to the present day. Aboard the USS Constellation, fellows talked with a historian about how a military ship would have operated in the 1860s. Fellows also got to partake in certain training exercises that sailors would do while on the open sea!
Members of the Gun Debate track also met with Cliff Coates, a rap artist and the GDS history department chair, to talk about the interactions between hip-hop music and gun culture. Cliff led the fellows in call and response activities and followed up with a discussion of hip-hop as a form of storytelling, artistry, and emotional expression.
Students visited the Building Museum's Gun Violence Memorial Project. There, four houses of 700 glass bricks each contained remembrance objects donated by immediate family members of loved ones who were killed by gun violence. Fellows each took time to answer the question written on the wall, "What does a world without gun violence look like for you?" The exhibit helped inspire the formulation of their group’s action plan.
Finally, members of The Gun Debate track met with The TraRon Center, founded by Ryane B. Nickens in 2017. The TraRon Center "helps those affected by gun violence heal through the arts." The TraRon center uses forms of art therapy and social-emotional learning to help young people, in particular, heal from gun trauma. Our fellows spoke with Ryane and participated in an art exercise led by TraRon artist in healing, Kenzie Murray, to learn more about one way of coping from the effects of gun trauma. Learn more by visiting the TraRon Center’s website: https://traroncenter.org/
Waging Life in the DMV
The Waging Life track volunteered at the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) to stock emergency supply boxes for food insecure senior citizens in the DMV area. Since the start of the pandemic, CAFB’s client base has expanded by 50%, and 1 in 10 DC residents is now experiencing food insecurity. In 2021 alone, CAFB has distributed 600,000 boxes to local recipients, and the Policy Institute was excited to play a small role in supporting this important work.
As mentioned above, the Waging Life group joined the Life Resettled track for a culinary exploration of DC’s U Street and Little Ethiopia, where they connected with local restaurant owners to understand the impacts of the pandemic on small businesses. A variety of the group’s other Policy Institute speakers also discussed the implications of COVID-19 on income and healthcare as well as providing the fellows with insights into the process (and pitfalls) of filing for unemployment. The group also toured the Residences at St. Elizabeth’s East to get a sense of the affordable housing landscape in Southeast DC, and connected with long-time GDS partner, Friendship Place, to learn about services available to locals experiencing homelessness.
Finally, members of the Waging Life in the DMV track toured NOVA (Northern Virginia) with Maria Durgan, a local historian, and Andy Leighton, a retired court mediator for Arlington County. During the tour, the Waging Life students met with small business owners, examined the impact of the new Amazon headquarters, and discussed how Amazon’s presence will likely impact the community.