Speak from the Heart, Not the Head: a New Take on Social Justice
by Aeshna Chandra on Friday, June 5th, 2015
On the weekend of May 16th and 17th, six students from Milton, both of us among the group, traveled to Phillips Academy Andover for the Social Justice Leadership Institute, a social justice-oriented retreat hosted by Sub/ Urban Justice. SJ is an activism group operating out of Boston, focused on helping youth understand the world and its surrounding systems of discrimination. At this retreat, the six students—Mateen Tabatabaei (III), Daysha Adotey (III), Cece Strang (III), Tiara Sharma (II), and the two of us—spent 36 hours discussing class, race, gender, and sexual orientation. We mulled over how these aspects of our identity play into how we see each other and our surroundings.
At first, we had low expectations for the weekend. After an exhausting week of junior spring, we struggled to see how the conversations that we would have during the conference would push any further than the discussions we’d already had at school. Yet, by Saturday at 9:00 am we were in a van on our way to Andover.
The packing list for the weekend indicated that participants might need a teddy bear or security blanket because the weekend would be emotionally draining. As the conference progressed, we understood just how true this statement rang. Throughout the weekend, we participated in a variety of activities meant to point out inequality in various aspects of daily life. These activities used simulations to provoke visceral emotions, forcing students to confront these inequalities on an emotional, rather than an intellectual, level. We played a game modeling the education system; we participated in a “Speak Out”; we shared, we listened, we questioned.
At the end of the conference, the Milton students regrouped to brainstorm ways in which we could bring these lessons back to Milton. On campus, our main points of contact with the activist world are the Affective Education program and the topics that students choose to bring onto campus. As the Milton community saw over the past year, fostering respect for these students and their topics of choice is a necessary next step for Milton; we cannot continue the way we are, one set of students disparaging the wishes and experiences of another. The conference helped us realize that vulnerability is the key to students’ relationships with each other. Opening up to one another, whether through the stand-up-sitdown activity or through the affinity groups, directed us to an effective discussion that went beyond the intellectual and achieved the emotional.
At Milton, these discussions, whether in Affective Education, around the Harkness table, or at club meetings, never truly toe the line and take risks. Yes, we discuss race and gender and sexual orientation and class, but do we ever confront our own roles in these systems? Yes, we think about ways not to be racist or to donate to the victims of natural disasters or to volunteer at a local homeless shelter, but so few of these thoughts ever become definitive actions. Stepping past the eloquent, incisive analyses that we are taught throughout our Milton career, we finally get to what matters most. The Milton bubble is very real is many ways: we place a bubble around our emotions, safeguarding our daily lives from the threat of feelings just as we safeguard our privileged existence from whatever lies beyond the confines of Randolph and Voses.
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