Guest speaker Stephen Brackett kicked off this year’s Upper School PlatFORUM, Colorado Academy’s full-day inclusivity conference, with songs, personal stories, and a high-energy game of rock-paper-scissors.
Brackett, social activist and lead singer of Denver band Flobots, opened by playing the piano and leading the audience in a song of forgiveness. He emphasized that to have the meaningful conversations that would make PlatFORUM a powerful experience, students would need to be bold and courageous, but also to be forgiving and gentle with each other.
“Be a champion for others,” he said, “Make your voices louder when standing up for other people.” Then, as an example, he led a lively game of Rochambeau, where students played each other and cheered wildly for their opponent when they won.
PlatFORUM is designed to be a space to share voices, experiences, and ideas around issues of social justice and inclusivity, and to move the CA community from dialog into action. According to faculty advisor Paul Kim, this CA tradition has taken many forms and names, but was rebranded to PlatFORUM four years ago, bringing students into leadership roles and empowering them to shape the focus and theme.
“We had a lot of creative freedom in the initial process, thinking of theme ideas, changing the schedule of the day, choosing a speaker, and more,” says Monika Williams, ‘19, one of three student directors this year.
Williams, with co-directors Yatzi Venzor, ‘19, and Mali Lopez, ‘20, picked Snap Judgements: Identity in the Internet Age as the theme and then recruited faculty and students to design and lead breakout sessions. More than 20 workshops were approved, with topics ranging from confronting homophobia, the culture of objectification, the history of gentrification, and race in team names.
Before students split into workshop groups, the directors spelled out ground rules to ensure a safe space for open, honest dialog. Students were encouraged to lean into discomfort as a catalyst for learning, suspend judgement of themselves and classmates, and to treat the candidness of others as a gift.
The conference also included a viewing of the documentary, 13th, which explores the history of racial inequality and incarceration in the United States, and an Open Mic for students to reflect on the day.
In the weeks following PlatFORUM, Williams has noticed a change in language and a more inclusive community in Upper School. “We have witnessed so many great conversations taking place,“ she says. “The best ones we’ve encountered were conversations in which someone was unaware of an issue and was fully open to learning about it, instead of knocking someone down for their ideas.”