Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) held a schoolwide, all-day event called “Day of Dialogue: A Social Justice Conference” on Friday, which allowed an opportunity for students to explore various social issues, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusiveness.
The day started with a land acknowledgment, a statement that the land was originally inhabited by indigenous people, by Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) elder David Vanderhoop, who also talked about the injustices indigenous people and other minority groups experienced at the hands of Europeans.
Vanderhoop’s land acknowledgment was followed by a keynote address by Kyle Williams, chief empowerment officer of the antiracism program A Long Talk. He spoke to the students about the historical and present racism that exists in America. However, he also talked about the efforts people have made toward being more inclusive.
Williams also introduced a method of responding to racism, particularly in everyday scenarios such as insensitive jokes or comments. The method from A Long Talk he introduced was the CPR Protocol, which is to ask for clarification, probe the person’s ability to empathize with the targeted group’s persecution, and help the person recognize their ability to support the targeted group rather than being in opposition. Williams acknowledged this will not work for everyone.
The majority of the day consisted of workshops students could attend that taught about various social justice–oriented topics, such as disabilities issues, Asian children’s literature, being antiracist, and more. The presenters were invited by students, and many of these students were part of a new social justice workshop taught by MVRHS social studies teacher Ena Thulin.
“I think what I really want kids to realize is that there are some inspiring people on the Island and off the Island doing some really amazing work to improve society, and there are places for them in that space. There are places for them to do the same. Hopefully, they can be inspired by one of the subjects,” Thulin said.
The student organizers were also enthusiastic about the conference. Freshman Mya Gardner attended workshops about antiracism and the LGBTQ community, and “got good information from both of them.”
“It’s good to see a change happen. Most people who are prejudiced or racist, I saw kind of a lightbulb turn on in their heads. When Kyle Williams was talking, I think people actually heard and listened to it,” Mya said.
Mya said she hopes people who attended the workshops learned something, and will spread the word about the conference. “I hope people got a sense of community from the day, and learned something new about people within their community,” she said.
Another student organizer was junior Lily Shaughnessy, who participated in the NAACP workshop and helped run the disabilities–Best Buddies workshop. She moved to the Island from Brookline, where she saw a lot of division among racial groups. At MVRHS, being a part of the Social Justice Club, which consists of primarily nonwhite students, broadened her perspectives on people’s experiences.
“I got to hear their perspectives of the school, and I felt like I never really interacted with a lot of kids because, in my classes, it was entirely white. I’ve noticed some injustices, but I’ve never experienced them firsthand,” she said.
Lily hopes her peers “are as open to learning different perspectives as they can be.”
“A lot of these topics are super-uncomfortable and new,” she said.
The students who participated in the workshops appreciated what they learned. Junior Kylie Devine, who is a Wampanoag tribal member, took part in the workshops about the experiences of veterans and Wampanoag.
Kylie also said she was “learning how to continuously be an activist for different things — to stick up for veterans, to stick up for my land, to stick up for people of color, to stick up for myself, and educate others of what’s important to this world and how to make the world a better place.”
Sophomore Emanuel Oliveira, who looks to be a community leader on the Island in the future, said the racial, governmental, and COVID impact has affected Brazilians both on the Island and back in Brazil. A subject that helped Emanuel personally was the CPR Protocol, a tool that would have helped when he experienced racism.
“It all comes to how we’re going to approach it,” he said. “We have our own problems as a community we have to go against. It’s an individual thing that connects to one another.”
The second half of the day consisted of more student-focused activities, such as an open mic session at the Performing Arts Center for students to artistically express issues or identities that resonate with them, like a poem about school shootings or singing about what it feels like to see the news as a Black student. The day concluded with an MVRHS unified basketball exhibition game.