Week of Understanding Builds Bridges

This year’s Week of Understanding featured several events designed to build bridges and understanding across our community. Panels on offensive language and identity groups exposed students and faculty to differing experiences within our community and facilitated conversation about race, religion, sexual identity, and inclusivity in general.

A few of the students and faculty who participated were kind enough to share their thoughts on their role and the events of Week of Understanding at Woodward. Below, we’ll hear from seniors Cameron Bothwell, Alex Rand, Nejra Arslanagic as well as Upper School counselor McKenzie Lawson and Upper School French teacher Jason Stump.

What was the highlight of your participation in Week of Understanding?

“...Definitely answering handwritten questions from the students. The inquisitive, thoughtful questions were proof that the student body cares about solving problems concerning racism and anti-semitism, which of course gives me hope for our future and also helps me appreciate the inclusive environment that Woodward creates for its students.”
—Alex Rand

“...The honor of hearing the personal experiences and seeing how engaged and impacted the student body was by the stories. Although many of the stories shared were painful and hard to hear, the vulnerability of the panelists was so powerful. I so appreciate their courage and the student body's engagement.”
—McKenzie Lawson

“...The overwhelming positive feedback. I know I personally received words of encouragement from both faculty members and students”
—Cameron Bothwell

“...Seeing all ages, racial groups, and sexual orientations represented, which was a great reflection of our community.”
—Jason Stump

Why was Week of Understanding important to you?

“As a counselor, empathy, understanding, and conversation are all so important to me. I believe these tenets cause real change. I appreciate my students being able to get hard questions answered so that they are empowered and encouraged to reflect on their own perspective. Furthermore, it was such an exciting experience for me, as I was forced out of my comfort zone in many ways. I know vulnerability is the only way to grow though, so I appreciated the opportunity to learn, challenge my own perspectives, and hear the priceless stories of my colleagues and students.”
—McKenzie Lawson

“This event was important to me because it’s so easy to remove yourself from a scenario or problem if you see a stranger discuss it or if you aren’t directly confronted with a situation. The goal of this panel was to show students and faculty that people that they know face discrimination and to make them aware of how their actions, whether intentional or unintentional, may affect other people.”
—Cameron Bothwell

“This was very important to me because I wanted to explain and show the school what my religion means to me, and how it is treated in the outside world. I wanted them to understand my experience, and learn how these experiences affect people.”
—Nejra Arslanagic

“This panel was important to me because I had the opportunity to give my two cents about hearing and handling offensive language. Not only was it important because I got to share my point of view to my fellow classmates, but also learning the differing perspectives of those on the panel expanded my understanding for other cultures and identity groups.”
—Alex Rand

Why do you think Week of Understanding is important for Woodward?

“It allow students to see marginalized individuals who often share their same viewpoint but don’t even know it. We have become a society who is afraid to engage those who are not like us because we have been taught fear of the unknown; we retreat from engaging others because we have been taught that we only speak and question with an intent to offend. I offered a completely different narrative about my experience as a gay man who is also an educator.

This panel was truly a conversation that needed to happen. During the entire week after, I was approached and congratulated by students and faculty, thanking me for sharing my story and breathing new life into our conversations that we have daily with those that are not like us.”
—Jason Stump

“I think events like this are important for Woodward because in a private school that heavily appreciates diversity, I feel it is crucial to build a student body that understands each other. It’s one thing to have a diverse group of students and it’s another thing to have a student body who can understand and respect each other’s differences. Events like these can reiterate this message to our students.”
—Cameron Bothwell

“This panel was crucial for Woodward because without open conversations and civil discourse, we will never understand those who identify differently than ourselves. By engaging in a discussion with people from the LGBT community and other races and religions in front of all of the student body, subsequent discourses and polite exchanges were sparked. As a result of these talks, Woodward itself became a more inclusive environment.”
—Alex Rand

“It is such an honor to be apart of an institution that is willing to engage in the "hard conversations." While we are fortunate to have such a diverse community and we strive to be inclusive, we can always do better. I think that in offering this assembly, students and faculty alike realized even more that we are committed to creating a welcoming environment for everyone.”
—McKenzie Lawson

“I think this event is important to Woodward because it gives us a chance to teach the students more about different communities.”
—Nejra Arslanagic

Do you have any hopes or wishes for Week of Understanding moving forward?

“Moving forward, I hope Woodward continues to influence students to have civil exchanges that promote harmony and understanding. The food and games are great, but it is imperative that high school students are exposed to opposing ideas and different cultures.”
—Alex Rand

“I hope Week of Understanding moves towards being more hands on like it was this year. In the past, the Week of Understanding has excelled at showcasing differences but there has always lacked discussions about diversity or differences. It’s essential to educate people along with exposure.”
—Cameron Bothwell

 


Our Student Publications team talked with various students last week about what Week of Understanding meant to them as well:

 

 

 

Week of Understanding from WAstpress on Vimeo.

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