Shaping Our GDS Future Through Activism

Campbell Keyser, Guyton Mathews
As diversity practitioners, we are always working toward creating the best programming possible for our students, and to do that, we constantly ask ourselves questions. Whose identities are we leaving out, and how do we call those people in? Where are our blindspots, and how are we actively checking those? How will this speaker impact the intersectional identities that our students carry? Nothing makes us ask these questions more than our annual Social Justice Teach-In Days in honor of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

These programming pieces are ones that we begin to think about as soon as the previous year’s days are completed. This year, our team made it a goal to listen to the New York Times Podcast, 1619. As we listened to the stories surrounding the “consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans,” we began to realize how we could connect this podcast to a program within our community. After listening to episode three, “The Birth of American Music” narrated by New York Times Culture Writer, Wesley Morris, we knew that we needed to engage him as our keynote speaker for this year’s Social Justice Teach-In Days. His work sparked the brainstorming that would eventually lead to our theme: The Art of Activism: Creating, Building, and Shaping the Paths to Our Future. With this theme in mind, we aimed to capture the spirit of activism in all of its forms, whether that be in film, journalism, visual arts, performing arts, spoken word, or, truly, anything that our student, faculty, alumni, and parent facilitators imagined.

On the night of February 11, our excitement for what was about to come to life over the next two days grew exponentially. It was what we had been preparing for with months of hard work, percolating in our brains since our team’s July retreat. From narrowing down a theme to selecting our keynote speaker, we had executed the multitude of preparatory tasks, and all there was left to do was begin this day of joy, strength, activism, and a commitment to social justice work.

This year, our community demonstrated activism in extraordinary ways through the work of social justice.

Maddie Feldman ‘22 demonstrated activism when she planned in October a workshop that involved a film screening around voter suppression, knowing that the wider community needed to understand more clearly the dangers that come from limiting access to the right to vote and creating racial disparities in voter turnout.

High School history teacher Cliff Coates demonstrated activism by engaging students in the ways in which Hip-Hop Culture has created and facilitated social justice movements to address issues such as police brutality, inner-city violence, racism and discrimination, poverty, and more.

Lauren Piper ‘26 demonstrated activism by bringing to light how pieces of her identity as a Black girl are under-represented and under-recognized in the world, engaging with her peers around successful black woman entrepreneurs and the contributions that they have made to society as a whole.

Zak Sandler ‘04 demonstrated activism by returning to speak to both middle and high schoolers about how to lean into discomfort in a workshop around emotional transparency, a form of radical activism that creates a world where, instead of repressing ourselves and detaching from each other, we bond over the internal experiences that connect us all.

Our performing arts, technology, and maintenance teams demonstrated activism through their constant support of the day’s events, allowing for them to run smoothly so that our guests felt comfortable, accommodated, and welcomed into the community.

So, as the aforementioned questions come to mind for next year’s programming, the one answer that we have found is becoming more and more salient: as a whole, GDS community members continue to show up as activists (in all of their forms) to call people in, to help us check our blindspots, and to demonstrate that the intersection of their identities are what make this community better each day.
  • DEI
  • Engage Ethically
  • High School
  • Lower School
  • Middle School