Community, Upper School

Students Engage in Activism and Advocacy

The Northwest School’s senior Writing Seminar and Race and Gender classes have paired up this year for what they are calling the Activism Project. The purpose of the project is to engage students in grassroots activism and demonstrate that real change can be accomplished on any level, whether it is as simple as writing an editorial to a newspaper or printing a t-shirt to promote a cause.

“Activism is something we focus on in both of these classes; we dive deep into those heavy, personal and systematic issues,” says Harumi LaDuke, who teaches the Writing Seminar. “The Activism Project is an extension of what we have been talking about historically, and also what the students have seen in the literature.”

Required reading for both classes has included Ta-Nehishi Coate’s Between the World and Me and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Harumi’s class will finish out the year studying Angela Davis and her writings about feminism.

In addition to discussion and reading, students work in groups to complete projects related to issues of race, gender, identity, and justice. They start with a simple question: what are some ways you would like to create positive change? For the first part of the project, groups must create awareness and change in some way within The Northwest School community.

Above: Students, faculty, and parents discuss Michelle Alexander's Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This year, the projects have focused on a wide-variety of topics, from t-shirts benefiting the Black Lives Matter movement and Planned Parenthood, to a hosted evening discussing bullying in schools. Other projects included a student-filmed documentary about core identifiers and a community-wide book discussion on systemic racial issues in America.

Greta Z., Alex W., and Taya C. knew they wanted to focus on depoliticizing reproductive organs. They designed a t-shirt and were overwhelmed with the positive response and support from the community. To date, the project has sold over 1,000 t-shirts with all of the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.

“This project has spurred interest across gender lines: lots of guys in our class bought and have worn the shirt as much as the girls," reveals Alex. "Our whole class has been great about actively participating.”

Mathea A. and her group created a documentary film featuring students and faculty members discussing core identifiers, such as race, religion, and sexual orientation. They showed the film to students after school and held a discussion about core identifiers.

"I learned that even though the scope of many of the projects were relatively small, each one of them still made an impact," says Mathea. "It helped me realize that I can do projects that are meaningful."

The second portion of the project requires students to again promote activism and change and, this time, expand the scope into the greater community.

“We want students thinking meaningfully about what they can do outside of our building,” says Race and Gender teacher MaryAnne Henderson. “Activism is something students can do their whole lives, and it has the power to effect a lot of positive change. It also has the power to teach you about yourself and what you are capable of.”