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At first glance, it appears to be a typical weekday morning on the Durham Academy Upper School campus. But then the rhythm of salsa music emanating from a language classroom piques your interest, and, through the window, you spy silhouettes dancing inside. A couple of doors down, a discussion about LGBTQ superheroes has drawn such a crowd that the door hangs open. In classrooms all over campus, freshmen sit beside seniors, enraptured in candid discussions led by fellow students, guests and faculty. It's an intentionally not-quite-typical day — DA's annual Mix-It-Up Day.
"Our aim as educators is to give our students as many opportunities as possible to examine and share issues that are important to them. The aim of our Mix It Up Day is to do just that," said Naa-Norley Adom, the Upper School's diversity coordinator and an English teacher.
This is the second year that Mix-It-Up Day — part of a national campaign launched by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program — has been held during an assembly period so that all Upper Schoolers could attend. When the call goes out for presenters, Adom has been impressed by the number of students and faculty who want to share something about their culture or dive deeper into a social justice issue that they are passionate about.
"We don't always get as much time as we'd like to talk about these things in the classroom, but that doesn't mean we can't make time during the school day for students to discuss equity, social justice and culture," she said.
This year's event, held Oct. 16, included 14 sessions on topics such as cultural appropriation in social media, women in science and traditional Indian dance. Eight of the sessions were either led or organized (with a guest speaker) by students ranging from freshmen to seniors, and six were led or organized by faculty. A sampling of the day's offerings follows:
- Seniors Jack Mishra and Pryce Sinclair led a session about the HeForShe gender equality movement. Starting the session with actress Emma Watson's UN HeForShe speech, the group of male and female students then moved to a discussion about how they might work toward gender equality in their own lives.
"I've noticed that even at DA, girls' sports get a lot smaller turnout than guys' sports," Mishra said, noting that he's seen a big crowd dissipate after a boys lacrosse, despite a girls game continuing the next field over. "Girls lacrosse is just as exciting as guys lacrosse.
- In a session organized by English teacher Dr. Harry Thomas, UNC Ph.D. student and Ultimate Comics employee Ben Bolling spoke about the evolving representation of LGBTQ characters in comic books. In the X-Men comic books, for example, a Canadian character named Northstar introduced readers to his boyfriend, Kyle Jinadu, in 2008. Since the time of that introduction and the couple's marriage a year or so later, the character has struggled to be seen for more than his sexuality, Bolling said.
"Diversity and representation is a good thing in general, but not all stories are good," he said.
- Sophomore Mariana Rocha-Goldberg shared her family's story of emigrating from Colombia. Dance is one way that she stays connected to her heritage, she said before demonstrating some moves for her classmates.
"Remember — move your hips!" she shouted over the beat of the music. "It doesn't matter if you're a guy. The movement of hips is very important in Colombian dancing."
- A trio of students who lead DA's Gender and Sexuality Alliance — senior Anna Baker, junior Samantha Baker and senior Rowan Gossett — led a discussion about LGBTQ rights after the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
"I think that it was so important to share information about what's next after marriage equality with our classmates because kids our age can have a large impact on the LGBTQ+ rights movement," Samantha Baker said after the session. "It is not something that is remote and intangible; it is very immediate and can be seen in dozens of ways."
- In his "Blessings and Challenges of a Multicultural Home" session, French teacher Kevin Schroedter shared his background of growing up as the son of an American father and Colombian mother.
"I was raised with one foot in Colombia, in South America — my mom would teach me Spanish and my favorite food was Latino food. I'd identify as Hispanic on forms," said Schroedter, who grew up in Miami. “And the other foot is — well, most of my friends were Caucasian-American. We spoke English at school."
When he asked how many of the student participants were in similar situations, several hands popped up around the classroom.
"What does that mean to you, how does that affect your life if you have one parent of one culture married to someone from another culture?" he asked. "How have you been raised, how do you identify yourself, what are the challenges you've had and what are the things that we can celebrate that have come out of that?"
- Junior Alice Dempsey led a discussion of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, centered around transgender dance choreographer Sean Dorsey's latest work, The Missing Generation.
After the session, Dempsey, who is a dancer, said the importance of sharing Dorsey's work with her classmates was twofold: to show how "dance can be used in so many different ways," and to explore a recent part of American history that has tangible reverberations today.
"The AIDS epidemic is a piece of U.S. history that is pretty recent and controversial, so it isn't something that would necessarily be discussed at length in a history class," she said. "But I think it's important for us to know more recent history and how the biases from those times might affect our lives."
Baker said Mix-It-Up Day helps to make diversity and social justice accessible to all students.
"All students can find a form of diversity that interests them, and that will inspire them to carry the cause and/or ideas past one day," she said. "There is diversity within the theme of diversity, and I think that Mix-it-Up Day does a wonderful job of highlighting and embracing that. "