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Unity Day 2020: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now?

On Thursday, January 30, our entire Upper School took a break from their regular class schedules to participate in Unity Day, a school-wide conference focused on bringing our community closer together. The full-day event included a keynote speaker, workshops, and reflection activities — all organized by student leaders from clubs including Multicultural Alliance, Faces of Severn, Umbrella Club, United Spectrum, Supporting Women Across the Globe, and more. Unity Day has fast become a cornerstone of our Upper School community — it’s a forum to discuss big, relevant issues that affect how our students view themselves, each other and the world around them.

Cultivating Inclusive Leadership

Unity Day is one stop along a continuum of student inclusion and social awareness work at Severn — work that is both intentional and ongoing. There’s a growing interest among our students in learning advocacy and leadership strategies through healthy discourse and community-building activities. Select students and faculty volunteer to attend local and national conferences each year including Diversity in the DMV, Gender and Sexual Orientation Conferece: Making Schools Safe, and the People of Color and Student Diversity and Leadership Conference. They bring back ideas to use in our community, creating a ripple effect that energizes and motivates their peers.

Under the guidance of a dedicated group of faculty including Dr. Aegina Martin, Ms. Kristin Blanck, Mr. Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge and Mr. Marc Buckley, our students plan this event during our fall and winter leadership labs and at club sessions throughout the year. They show up, do the work, and consistently set the bar higher for themselves. 
Severn School student leaders gathered together in Teel Rotunda.
Unity Day student facilitators with faculty mentors.

Setting the Tone

This year’s Upper School adaptive challenge is “Set the Tone,” a call for every member of our community to work from foundation of empathy and understanding as we move through the school year together. Our students were proud to welcome Dominica Groom Williams, Vice President of Inclusion, Diversity and Community Engagement at Freddie Mac, to set the tone for Unity Day with a keynote speech on how to get the most out of the event:
“At the core, diversity focuses on differences and inclusion focuses on the acceptance of those differences. By definition, most people associate diversity with ethnicity, gender, disability, etc. but from my perspective, that’s the most basic and underserving definition. The reality is that we are all different and that’s a beautiful thing...the other reality is that while we are all different, we often realize that we have more commonalities than not, but only if we take the time to get to know each other. Outside of your normal friend circles, you may interact with someone who shares your love of sports, enjoys the same genres of music, likes the same types of food, or has the same career aspirations. But you will never know this unless you are intentional about connecting with and getting to know other people. In my experience, I have found that the more intentional and receptive I have been with other people, the more I have learned, grown, and excelled.” — Ms. Dominica Groom Williams
Dominica Groom Williams addresses Severn School Upper School students during her keynote speech.
Michelle Courtney and Dominica Groom Williams of Freddie Mac
Ms. Williams led the crowd in a “rock, paper, scissors” tournament to break the ice, reduce tensions and encourage more open conversation followed by a question and answer session facilitated by student leaders Robin Howie ‘20 and Michael Hesford ‘20.
Severn School students facilitate a panel discussion during Unity Day.
Robin and Michael with Ms. Williams and Ms. Courtney.

Looking Back to Move Forward

The theme of Unity Day 2020 was “Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now?” This concept connects our work over the last several years to the present moment while opening a conversation about the future. In planning workshops for the conference, our students looked at past topics and discussed how their ideas and perceptions have shifted, pinpointing opportunities for growth with this year's focus. Workshops included:
  • Gender Expectations: How to Be a Better Person
  • Gun Violence Today: Is This Our America?
  • Climate Justice: Shall We Clear the Air?
  • #SameHere: We're All A Little Crazy (with speaker and mental health awareness advocate Mr. Eric Kussin)
  • The Division That Unites (Multicultural)
  • Consent: The Fear of 'No'
  • Pulling Back the Curtain on Sports
  • My Culture, Your Culture
  • The Spectrum of Women's Rights Around the World: Understanding Where Women Are Today
  • Change Our Minds: How to Express an Argument
  • Parental Pressures
  • That's Fake News
  • Conserve 2 Preserve
  • Civil Discourse in Modern America
  • Behind the Game
  • Experiencing America From the Perspective of Women of Color
  • Faculty Fishbowl
Severn School teachers present at a conference holding artwork.
Workshop leaders set the tone for each session with a variety activities and discussion strategies.
Following the workshops, students met in self-selected affinity groups for free discussion and reflection. They talked about their experience through the lenses of race, religion, mental health, and socio-economic class — examining Unity Day as a whole along with their personal reactions. This reflection time was critical for students to begin to honor and process their thoughts and emotions. Our teachers also met at the end of the day to share feedback as mentors.
Severn School Upper School students in discussion groups.
Student facilitators and faculty mentors often circulated the sessions to encourage thoughtful discourse.

More Than Just One Day

Although this event takes place on a single day, it is the culmination of weeks, months and years of work. The goal is for these conversations to continue and for students to gain new perspectives to bring into their personal and academic lives. As a community, we acknowledge that we don’t have it all figured out. Through humility and the desire to understand the experiences of others, we grow closer. We learn how to share our ideas and identities while honoring the perspectives of those around us. And as we gain understanding, we find new questions to ask on the path toward building a stronger, more inclusive community.

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Lower School

Preschool-Grade 5
Chesapeake Campus
1185 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd
Arnold, MD 21012

Middle/Upper School

Grade 6-12
Teel Campus
Severna Park, MD 21146