Symposium Celebrates the Power of Diversity

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor even a false fire alarm, could dampen the enthusiasm of Greenhills students and faculty for the 2019 Annual Diversity Symposium on Feb. 7.

Organized by Nadine Hall and Kelly Williams, co-directors of the Greenhills Office of Diversity, the symposium kicked off with a keynote address from Matthew Countryman, a Greenhills parent and chair of the University of Michigan’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. Professor Countryman’s address, “Student Activism for Racial Justice, Past and Present,” highlighted the critical roles young people have played in struggles for change. Drawing on examples from the Montgomery. Bus Boycott to lunch counter sit-ins on State Street in downtown Ann Arbor, Countryman reminded all of us that we have the power to contribute to social change.

Throughout the morning, students participated in a range of interactive diversity-related workshops.

6th Grade: A morning workshop, “Boundaries and Bodies,” helped students learn about cultural norms, personal space, and sensitive language to cultivate respectful interactions with their peers. This original workshop was developed by the Office of Diversity and led by advisers. Students then visited the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.

7th Grade: In the “You’re A Star” session, 7th graders reflected on the visible and invisible aspects of their identities, discussed ways to avoid making assumptions about others and celebrate all identities. This original workshop was developed by the Office of Diversity and led by advisers. The class then took a field trip to The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

8th Grade: Students gathered in the east gym with Reg Pettibone, a Native American from the HoChunk Nation and a champion Pow Wow dancer, and his wife Marca, for a presentation on Native American culture and environmental sustainability. Later that morning, the 8th graders played the “American Dream Game” with its creator Professor Jennifer Yim, director of UM’s Global Scholars Program. The game helps players experience different identities and circumstances that affect all our lives, while inspiring conversations about stereotypes, discrimination, interpersonal conflict, intersecting social identities and more.

9th Grade: In “Hip-Hop & Collaboration,” poet, performer and Greenhills parent Akili Jackson helped students learn about hip-hop culture, ways to create collaboratively, and the connections between hiphop and social activism. In a session “Microaggressions,” students explored how unintentional daily slights and insults can place a strain on peer relationships and learned strategies for addressing them when they occur.

10th Grade: Class members participated in a scavenger hunt through the “We Don’t Want Them” exhibit in the school’s Wege Gebhardt Library. Provided by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, the exhibit illustrated the history of housing segregation in Detroit and served as backdrop for dialogue on difference, structural discrimination, and immigration. In a following session, “On the Shoulders of Giants: Advancing Freedom and Liberation in Our Community and Beyond,” students learned how to combat inequity in Washtenaw County. Yodit Mesfin-Johnson, a nationally-recognized speaker and facilitator on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, led the session.

11th Grade: In the session “Introduction to Social Identity” representatives from The Neutral Zone worked with students on self-reflecting about their own social identities and how they impact interactions with others.  In her presentation, “Why Diversity Matters Professionally, Biologically & Politically,” Greenhills alum Erin Marie Williams-Hatala ’96, a professor of evolutionary biology at Chatham University, shared her career path as a woman of color, the role demographics play in how we view the world and the consequences of seeing the world through a narrow lens.

12th Grade: The UM student group WeListen facilitated a conversation with seniors about immigration with the goal of helping students learn how to have productive and constructive conversations about political issues with people who hold different beliefs. In the second session, “Four Lies that Rob You of Your Power to Make Change,” the class heard from social change strategist Chuck Warpehoski about ideas that can undermine their ability to feel empowered to create change in their own communities.

Following lunch — and a brief interruption by false-alarm fire alarm –, students in grades 8-12 and faculty chose from a selection of eight diversity-related documentaries, including The Mask You Live In, Growing Up Trans, and Freedom Riders. See the full list here.The day concluded with an energizing and interactive hip-hop performance “I Am Because We Are” in the West Gym and 6th and 7th graders returned from their field trips.

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