Packer Fosters Discussions in Wake of Presidential Inauguration
Above: Students discuss the effects of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order in Packer’s first “First Friday” session this past February.
At the vanguard of post-inauguration reactions lies the Women’s March on Washington, a protest that quickly spread throughout the country, bent on sending “a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” as declared in their mission statement.
While many among the student body and faculty took part in the Jan. 21 protests, Packer’s response as a whole manifests itself in a far less partisan way. Rather than outright demurral and demonstration, in the weeks following president Trump’s inauguration and subsequent executive orders, Packer has embarked on a variety of activities with the intent of stimulating dialogue.
The maiden promotion for political discourse after Trump’s inauguration and early effectuations in office was Head of Upper School Mr. Jose De Jesus’ school-wide email titled “Our community and the executive order,” sent out Jan. 31.
Referring to Trump’s recent executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, Mr. De Jesus pointed to Packer’s diversity, communality, and ability to “have each other’s back” in times such as these.
“I want you to know that although political winds outside our school may swirl and change, our school remains more committed than ever to being an inclusive place dedicated to building relationships with each other, our city and the greater world,” said Mr. De Jesus. “We want every student in our school to feel they can bring their full self to school every day.”
Mr. De Jesus went on to state that he was currently trying to assemble a platform for political discussion among the student body and faculty. His goal, he declared, “is to have a forum for us to learn more about important national issues and be able to freely discuss them.”
The result was revealed in a subsequent email introducing First Fridays, an Upper School program meeting on the first (PICK UP HERE BOB) (continued from page 1) Friday of every month. These community time meetings are designed in the “hope that the Packer community can gain greater knowledge and develop insight on how we can use what we’ve learned in service to acting with purpose and heart,” Mr. De Jesus stated in the email.
Tene Howard, Packer’s Director of Global Outreach, Service, and Sustainability, stated that although no one in Packer was directly affected by the executive order in terms of ability to travel, many friends and family members of Packer students were impacted. She went on to say how the role of First Fridays’ were to “be responsive to whatever we’re hearing in the community… and part of what people were saying is that they just want a space to be able to understand what’s actually happening, whether you’re in support of it or not.”
Indeed, the initial First Friday, held on Feb. 3, did just that. The session commenced with a brief presentation by Dr. Sarah Strauss explaining the order and its historical context. Participants in the meeting alluded to Jewish immigration quotas in 1930’s, including the Roger’s Bill of 1939, as well as The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which focused on denying immigrants who were unlawful or politically radical and accepting those who were able to assimilate to the U.S. social and political structures. The discussion then progressed towards more personal convictions on the matter. Questions arose surrounding whether this is what the people of America want as well as whether the support for this order is a product of lack of education or the manipulation of the media. Students also contemplated the morality of the order and what is to be done in the wake of Trump’s decree.
Many faculty members have tried to open up spaces for discussion within their own classes, even to the extent of curriculum shifting. Ms. Howard alluded to a possible curriculum change in her South African history course, which she co-teaches with Mr. Andrew Parson, explaining how the course may veer towards examining immigration in the South African context and collating it with America’s new stance on immigration.
Students have also taken initiative in cultivating their own formal conversations. Over symposium, Katie and Will Panczner (‘18) organized a visit to an exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art revolving around global refugees. Titled “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter,” the exhibition explores the ways in which contemporary architecture and design have addressed notions of shelter in light of global refugee emergencies: “Bringing together projects by architects, designers, and artists, working in a range of mediums and scales, that respond to the complex circumstances brought about by forced displacement, the exhibition focuses on conditions that disrupt conventional images of the built environment,” states the exhibition’s official website. According to Katie Panczner, a post-visit meeting will take place at some point in the near future with the hopes of cultivating further deliberation on the matter of immigration policy and the welfare of refugees worldwide.
Other ventures include a variety of marches, such as the city-wide student protest opposing the President’s immigration in Lower Manhattan, which occurred Feb. 7, as well as a faculty-run MLK march this past Martin Luther King Jr. day. which, although modest and slightly informal, carried strong political and inadvertently partisan weight in the current circumstances.
In view of recent events, Packer has seemingly made it a mission to band together, regardless of potentially divergent political leanings, and generate conversation.