‘You can’t judge someone on how they look’

What do you get when several students and educators within the Colorado Academy community connect with other individuals in the Denver Metro area? A dynamic equity and inclusivity conference!

On October 4, CA students embodied leadership in the area of cultural competence through their work with STAMP (Students Taking Action and Making Progress). Prior to the STAMP gathering, Juniors Hannah Krueger, Mackenzie Wagner, Samer Mohamed, Henry Trembath, and Senior Mali Lopez worked alongside 40 other students representing various independent, public, and charter schools. The high school students collaborated to create developmentally appropriate equity, inclusion, and justice workshops for Middle School students. The powerful workshops took on a range of topics: race, class, gender and sexual orientation, body image, self-advocacy, and stereotypes.

A visit from Captain America 

The day began with Visharjit Singh, who is a cartoonist, writer, and performing artist. During his keynote address, he discussed race as a social construct that was used to divide and oppress others. He challenged students to push beyond current societal norms and stereotypes to make an impact on their communities. As a Sikh American who faced discrimination post 9/11 due to assumptions based on his appearance and ethnicity, Singh decided to dress as Captain America and spread kindness.

CA Eighth Grader Sydney Leach described Singh’s keynote address as being extremely impactful, because he asked students to describe him at the start of his presentation, before they knew very much about him, and then again at the end. The exercise served as a reminder to students that there’s a whole story to one’s life. “You can’t judge someone on how they look,” said Sixth Graders Chloe Chesley-Vogels and Asha Wagner. “There’s more to a person than their appearance.”

Takeaways for Middle School students

The high school facilitators were excited to share their passion for this work with younger students. Several students, like Krueger, began as Middle School attendees and now serve as  student facilitators on the topic of gender and identity. Watching her and others weave in the things they’ve learned in classes like gender studies was truly magical.

During my debrief with the Middle School students, Sixth Grader Mara Harris shared, “It’s important to learn about these types of things so that we don’t repeat it. If you don’t learn it now, then you can be unaware that you’re using things like stereotypes.” Messages like that, and “It’s not okay to talk about someone else’s identity without their permission,” rang loud and clear. The nine Middle School students who attended are looking forward to sharing their learning with their peers.

Takeaways for teachers

The investigation and collaboration didn’t end with the students. Teachers were able to attend workshops as chaperones and meet with other educators and community members on Saturday, October 5, for the adult conference, CIRCLE. The adult workshops included a range of topics from LGBTQIA+ and being brown post 9/11, to Latinx and personal exploration. “It was wonderful to be in a community with like-minded folks,” shared Upper School History Teacher Neethi Venkateswaran. As a new member of the CA community, she finds that being exposed to inclusivity and equity networks in Denver provides an additional source of support.

Middle School Spanish and Civics Teacher Sara Monterroso shared similar sentiments. “It was valuable to connect with educators from other schools and other subject areas. We’re all continuing on the path, and this provided us with the opportunity to sharpen our saws and learn from one another. I appreciate CA’s commitment to inclusivity work with a desire for lasting change.”

CA has played an integral role in STAMP and CIRCLE as a community partner throughout the years. Every year, STAMP provides workshops for more than 200 Middle School students. Our Upper School students will be able to apply to become STAMP leaders for the 2020 conference this Spring.