On Saturday, April 28, more than 60 students from Harriton, Lower Merion, Bala Cynwyd and Welsh Valley attended the District's first-ever social justice conference, "Speak Your Truth." Organized by LMHS-SAGE (Students Advocating for Gender Equality), the conference focused on expanding students' awareness of social injustices, differences and privilege, and inspiring them to act to make the world a better place.
The conference had several key objectives:
- To create a more tolerant culture at school through a deeper understanding of diversity
- To raise awareness of gender, race and class issues that impact students' success in school, careers and relationships
- To share strategies to deal with sexism, racism, bias and harassment
- To learn how to be an advocate for oneself and others, an active bystander and an informed participant in conversations about challenging topics
- To meet role models who are devoting their talents and passion to help make the world more inclusive and peaceful
In workshops led by a diverse group of educators, activists and students, as well as through films, performance and art projects, students had the opportunity to explore the role of gender, race and class in the arts, politics, law and on college campuses, as well as in their own identities and relationships. Workshop leaders shared their expertise on how to respond to rhetoric and policies that demonize others through such strategies as creating alternative media and forming alliances to lobby for change.
The conference opened with a performance by Jacob Winterstein, a freestyle (improvisational rapping) poet and teaching artist. His poems and discussions focused on the history and policies that led to discrimination in education, housing and upward mobility for people of color. He also related his grandfather's harrowing escape from the Nazis and struggles as a refugee.
"What he said, and how he said it was amazingly powerful," said Harriton senior Tyler Lynch.
Another opportunity to learn about privilege and inequity was through playing the "American Dream" board game where students were assigned game card identities who had either advantages of the dominant culture or disadvantages of a marginalized group.
"The board game was really eye-opening," said Lower Merion junior Sara Hammoudeh. "We were able to get an idea of real people's struggles."
Gender issues were the focus of discussion groups about the films "Miss Representation" and "The Mask You Live In." Students learned about how the media's objectification of women undermines their ability to be taken seriously as leaders, causing a drastic underrepresentation of women in Congress. Students also heard about how the pressure on men to be stereotypically "manly" can limit their ability to be emotionally expressive and lead to mental health issues and violent behavior. The media's portrayal of women and men of color and LGBTQ+ people were also discussed.
Preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence was the focus of workshops that looked at combating street harassment, consent and bystander intervention, and the District's supports and resources in these areas.
"Because the conference was an inclusive environment, students were able to meet others who shared an interest in social justice and have honest conversations about difficult topics" said Lower Merion senior and conference co-chair Molly Kaiser.
Fellow co-chair Lily Kemler, a Lower Merion junior, added, "People left the conference feeling empowered to take action on issues that were important to them."
In conjunction with the conference, LMHS- SAGE sponsored a clothing drive to raise money for the conference charity, Laurel House, which provides emergency shelter and support to women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
To view a slideshow of pictures from this year's conference, click on the image below.