Packer In Action
Advocacy and activism were the focus of Packer’s first annual, formerly bi-annual, Community in Action day. For this event, students and teachers were asked to put aside their everyday Packer tasks to participate in in-depth community reflection, inspection and engagement through discussions, activities and performances. The themes were created by Ms. Smith-Williams, Packer’s new diversity coordinator, who drew inspiration from the feeling of helplessness she experienced during the presidential campaign and election.
“We wanted to rally our community around being able to take action,” said Ms. Smith-Williams. “We always talk about how we identify, but we don’t always think about how others identify, why something may be important to them, and why they feel like they want to take a stand on one issue but not another.”
This year’s CIA day was unlike many in the past. The program was organized by Ms. Smith-Williams along with a team of faculty and student leaders. Additionally, students who traveled in December to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Atlanta played a large role in the organization and inspiration of the day by incorporating new games and activities into the schedule, such as Fishbowl, Taboo and Wants/Needs/Fears, played in student’s advisory families.
“The activities were the focal points of what we wanted to discuss,” said Stephanie Laporte (‘17). “They prioritized the resistance of stereotypes, speaking from the ‘I’ perspective, and putting yourself in other people’s shoes.”
One major change to the curriculum, compared to CIA days in the past, was the purposeful exposure of every Upper School student to the same activities and discussions and presentations for the first half of the day. In the past, students would sign up for student-led workshops they wanted to participate in, ultimately exposing different groups of students to different kinds of activities and topics.
“Often community in action day was really powerful for some kids, and then for other kids the workshop was a hit or miss, or they just weren’t benefitting from that reserved time,” said Ms. Smith Williams. “We’re doing the same activities for all students, regardless of whether or not an Upper Schooler is in ninth grade or eleventh grade…every student will be exposed to the same lessons that challenge our assumptions and stereotypes, shape real dialogue and lead to clear steps for our community in terms of becoming a more affirming and inclusive space.”
Later in the day, students were split up into preference-based affinity groups based on a certain social identifier that they wished to focus on. There were only sixteen affinity group options to choose from, but each student received either their first or second choice. Emails were sent out with details on each students placement in an attempt to respect the privacy of student’s identifiers and to preserve the safety of these spaces.
“I was very surprised that my affinity group was even offered as an option,” said Natasha Wong (‘18). “ I wouldn’t even think that there were so many people who would identify as that or even that being a first generation or immigrant to the U.S. was a valid way to identify.”
The final event of the day, a chapel open-mic session, allowed students to address the community directly with newfound or long-held concerns, desires and realizations about how certain groups are treated and regarded at Packer. Every year, despite varying CIA day schedules and activities, students and faculty seem to express a desire to incorporate further discussions, awareness and discomfort into daily life in our school.
“Every CIA day it’s very important to recognize that one day a year is not enough to realize the issues that are in our community,” said Andrew Enger (‘17). “Maybe community time, community meetings, or during break could be more effectively used to educate people, even though little presentations, which can go a long way in terms of allowing people to see issues that they might not have even considered in the past.”
As Rashad Randolph, dean of the class of 2017, said frankly to the Packer community on Wednesday afternoon, “It will be easy for people to go back to enjoying their privilege.”
Hearing students and faculty reflect their long days of tough conversations and deep realizations further clarifies the fact that we as a community feel the importance of carrying CIA day’s lessons and teachings into our daily lives at Packer. In that moment in the chapel, it seems possible. We all adopt a CIA-day-every-day mentality. However, do Packer students truly believe it’s possible to continue to lean into discomfort day after day, a job that is usually left up to marginalized and groups in our community? Will CIA day’s newfound status as a annual Packer event influence us to integrate the values and lessons it idylicises into the other one hundred and eighty days of the school year?