St. Mark's annual Community and Equity Day took place on Monday, January 24, and the celebration of identities and cultures continued on Tuesday evening, January 25, with the Cultural Festival. Both events offered opportunities for the entire School community to come together to listen to and learn from one another.
In the Putnam Family Arts Center's Class of '45 Hall, keynote speaker Dr. Liza Talusan shared an engaging presentation on "How Understanding Identity Helps Us to Create More Inclusive Schools." Talusan's talk was made available via livestream to families and alumni, and in it, she spoke about three key processes: building knowledge, engaging in reflection, and moving to action. "What does it mean to be identity-conscious?" she asked. It means "who we are informs how we see the world around us."
Talusan encouraged students to think about the many aspects of their identities, as well as the influencers on their identities, such as family values and personal experiences. She spoke about building habits and skills to create more inclusive spaces in our classrooms, on our teams, and throughout our School, and concluded her remarks with another important question to ponder: "Are we just including, or are we taking time to make sure all belong?"
Following Talusan's keynote address–ready to listen, learn, share and reflect–students, faculty, and staff participated in workshops presented by visiting educators, including: "Understanding Power Dynamics and Personal Agency"; "How to be Gender Aware"; "Disrupting Racial Bias and Micro Indignities"; "Structuring Self Care During Social Change"; "Accounting for the Past, Tending to the Present, Forging the Future"; and "From Socialization to Solidarity: Learning My Identities and Leading with Love," among others.
In the afternoon, Pathways Prefects led Umoja, a student-centered talent show celebrating diversity and shared identities, created at St. Mark's in 2018. Umoja is the Swahili word for 'unity', and this year's inspired student and faculty performances included poetry, videos, dances, and songs–all livestreamed for families and alumni to enjoy, as well.
"We created Umoja with a purpose," said Associate Director of Community and Equity Affairs Starry Zhu. "We wanted to show everyone that the so-called C&E work isn't just about having difficult conversations and understanding confusing terms. It is not just about collective pain, generational struggles, and systemic oppression. It's also about everything you've seen on this stage today. It's fundamentally rooted in pride, joy, curiosity, unity, and love, the kind of love we have for each other and share with each other as human beings."
Community and Equity Day concluded with a special evening Chapel service; then the celebration continued on Tuesday evening when students and faculty gathered for the Cultural Festival in Elkins. Together, St. Markers enjoyed cuisine from around the world, along with games, music, slideshows and exhibitions celebrating their cultures and identities.
Photograph by Adam Richins