Putting yourself in other people’s shoes is one of the best ways to foster understanding and compassion towards those who may be different from you.
Recently, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students at Briarcliff High School had a chance to do just that.
“The members of the Student Coalition for Human Dignity wanted to honor Martin Luther King and decided to do a workshop to highlight Dr. King’s work and to tie his message to present-day struggles,” said Student Coalition and World Language teacher Samantha Boyer.
The workshops took place in all English classes, allowing the entire student body to participate. Each workshop was facilitated by at least one member of the Student Coalition or a student in Kristen Becerra’s “Classism, Racism and Sexism” Class .
“Some students have shared that they feel unseen, unheard, treated unfairly or judged based on their identity,” Ms. Boyer said. “We wanted to ultimately foster a greater understanding of each other and to raise awareness and empathy within the school community.”
One of the workshops was facilitated by seniors Talia London and Coby Rinke.
Students began by writing about their own identity – how they see themselves and how they are perceived by others
“This activity is meant to show contrast of how we want to appear and how others see us,” Talia said.
Next, students watched a student-created video that reflected Dr. King’s message.
“We take the day off in honor of MLK, so this is an opportunity for us to reflect on why we have the day off,” Coby said.
“The video shows why his work was so important,” Talia said.
Afterwards, students read essays submitted anonymously by other students at the school. The essays reflected various issues that certain students at the school experience, such as gender identity, religion, ethnicity, race and body image.
In the powerful essays, the authors described personal and intimate details about their current daily struggles, which enabled students to put themselves in others’ shoes.
“It shows how much people carry all of these stereotypes with them every day and how they have to deal with stigmas,” Talia said.
Next, students were divided into groups and moved through stations, where they discussed different questions:
How does the author see themselves, how does the author feel perceived by others and do the students have a question for the author or a personal reaction?
Each group shared their thoughts on paper and several students shared their thoughts with the rest of the class.
“As opposed to reading a fiction book, students know that these are real students in their school with real struggles, so I think it resonated more with them,” Ms. Boyer said. “I hope it makes a little bit of a difference to the students and that they walk away with a better understanding.”
Finally, students wrote down anonymously on a piece of paper one idea that they had to increase acceptance and inclusivity at the school, or what they thought about the workshop, crumpled it up, and tossed it into a box.
“We are always looking for ways to improve our students’ experience at school,” said Principal Diana Blank “One of the best ways to understand what needs to change is to listen to the voices and ideas from our students themselves. Assistant Principal Daniel Goldberg and I look forward to continuing to work with our students and faculty to explore and implement the ideas generated from Friday’s workshop.”