Upper School | Gr. 9-12
Student Leadership

Unity Day 2021: Watch Party

Written by Chéla Cunningham '21 and Sarah Dixon '24
On January 26th and 27th, Severn Upper School students, both remote and in-person, came together to focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Organized by students for students, Unity Day is the culmination of club planning and open-minded conversation. Though it’s not an academic day, students walk away with a new-found understanding of the different perspectives held by their classmates.

Cinematic Changes

In previous years, Unity Day has been a time where students gathered in various classrooms to educate and discuss prevalent issues. This year looked a little different. While many still convened at school, the day was centered around a film offered by each of the workshops. In a time where the way we learn is changing, it was important to adjust Unity Day and present information in an easily digestible way. And in an age where we’re constantly streaming music and shows, movies were a great way to do that. Afterward, students engaged in thoughtful conversation about what they’d watched. With the events of the past year, it was imperative that people process and fully understand the current state of America. Though the day changed, the essence remained the same: regardless of political belief, race, religion, or anything else, everyone’s opinions are valued.
Severn School high school student Unity Day organizers on Zoom.
Members of Faces of Severn, Unity Day student leaders
Many of the topics covered were issues that may have been new or different for many students. Umbrella Club hosted the movies "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" and "The Pursuit of Happiness." Both movies tackled issues of mental health, specifically as a teenager and as a person of color. Spanish Club hosted the movie "Una Mujer Fantastica" which dealt with the struggles of being a transgender woman in Chile. Multicultural Alliance hosted "When They See Us" and discussed the implications of police brutality. With the film, "The Hate You Give," Amnesty International discussed police brutality as well as what it’s like to be a student of color attending a predominantly white institution. These are just a few of the clubs that hosted movies during Unity Day. Other movies included "Jojo Rabbit," "Just Mercy," and "Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnson."
Photo of Unity Day flyer.
The schedule for both days featured a keynote address from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant Mr. Lawrence Alexander, introduced by Abijah Pennant '21.

No Distractions

While the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic did pose some challenges, it also allowed more room for creativity in talking about current issues. With everything operating slowly and little to no school events, this year was the perfect time to learn about different perspectives. The lack of distractions allowed space for more voices to be heard.  That might have been just what we needed to be successful. Everyone who was involved dove in, which made for in-depth conversations. However, even with more room to speak and listen, students would rather have been physically close on Unity Day to feel some sense of normalcy.
Severn School high school student wearing a mask listening to a Unity Day presentation.
Although spaced apart, everyone listened closely as the groups shared. (photography by Sarah)

Our Personal Accounts

As a new freshman at Severn, I had virtually no clue what I was getting into when I signed up for the Winter Leadership Lab which is one of our planning days for Unity Day. But, I was interested in diversity work so I thought why not. I ended up being a facilitator for 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' which was a movie chosen to highlight mental health issues. Being one of the Unity Day leaders was an amazing experience for me as it allowed me to connect and relate to other students. I found that, through leading discussions, I had things in common with people who I never thought I would. My day went better than anticipated and I will definitely be involved with Unity Day for the next few years.
As a senior who’s been through four Unity Days, this year was one of my favorites. Unity Day has been one of the few days I feel seen, heard, and appreciated as a Black student but the day only works when everyone approaches conversation with a certain level of open-mindedness. This year, I was worried that it would be hard to have honest conversations from behind a computer screen. I was concerned that, as a remote student, the day would feel different or that I wouldn’t feel connected to the community. But it turned out to be completely fine. The highlight of my day was the keynote speaker, Mr. Lawrence Alexander. Even though I’m nowhere near school, listening to the keynote speaker brought me back to sitting in Price Auditorium and staring up at the podium in the front of the room. Though it was just a quick moment, it was a great way to start the day because from then on, I kind of felt like I was at school. I facilitated one of the two sessions that Multicultural Alliance hosted. We watched the first episode of 'When They See Us,' a movie about the Exonerated Five. None of the people in my group had seen the movie before and I think that allowed for open and honest discussion. Although we were all remote, we had a good conversation and even got to watch a little bit of the second episode.

The Takeaway

Despite some challenges like being in hybrid learning mode and not being able to physically all be together, we still found a way to make it work for the Severn community. We achieved our goals of fostering understanding and making a space for conversation — and had fun while doing it.
Collage of photos of students and faculty from Unity Day.
Unity Day snapshots (photography by Sarah)

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