Early last year, a group of students approached the administration at Latitude High School with a request: would they please cancel class? Oh, and not just the students’ own classes—everyone’s classes. For a whole day.
The administration agreed.
They were glad to—because these students were representatives from the Girls Leadership Empower Club, and along with the Black Students Union and the Queer Gender Sexuality Association, they had a full day of education planned to replace the day’s classes. Instead of chemistry and history, the whole school would be able to take part in learning to increase equity and inclusion.
The groundswell of support for this initiative began in Empower Club meetings, and slowly developed as girls discussed their personal experiences as well as systemic issues that were affecting them, including gender- and race-based issues they faced. “When I got to the first [Empower Club] meeting and we talked about the discussion, I was like, this is what we’re talking about! At our school we weren’t really talking about these [issues], we weren’t really being comfortable with each other. It was a nice little safe space to conversate and kinda learn about each other and also what we want and what’s the stamp we wanted to put on our school,” said Janelle, now a senior at Latitude.
Being open with each other helped the girls discover support and solidarity from each other, as well as a better understanding of the difficulties they were all facing. Because they were the ones who best understood the issues, they were also the best situated to offer solutions. “[We wanted to give) people a chance to speak up about things we don’t usually talk about, not just in our school, but also in our community,” said Mariah, also a senior.
Leading up to Solidarity Day, members of the Empower Club prepared themselves and their peers to engage on what were potentially difficult conversations. They developed curriculum and presented in every humanities class at the school on the topics of intersectionality, allyship, and bystander intervention.
“Being a bystander, at the end of the day, you’re contributing to the issue that’s going on when it’s not just something that’s affecting that person, but it’s affecting the community,” said Janelle, sharing why bystander intervention was an important topic to share.
Empower Club and their coalition didn’t just plan Solidarity Day, they also led both classes and group activity spaces. Students led workshops and discussions on topics such queer history, the impact of the “N-word,” and how to interrupt sexual harassment. They also created a healing space for students to drop in and process the experience and learnings of the day with wellness stations featuring art activities and meditative opportunities.
“For my station we did essential oils and self-love letters. There were a lot of people that you wouldn’t necessarily think would want to indulge in it, but they had a great time and they were super involved and wanted to know more about the group,” said Janelle.
Solidarity Day at Latitude was a resounding success. The dean of the school shared, “for that day it felt like the atmosphere changed. 90% of the students felt that Solidarity Day was a positive experience and 100% of the staff felt like it was positive and wanted to do it again.” This was certainly true of the Empower Club members, who were energized by their success and by the challenges they had overcome. Having worked to overcome their own fears, like leading a classroom, and the skepticism of some of their peers, they felt increased confidence and power. “Everything we’ve done has helped me personally in life and my whole thought process has changed over time with every meeting. It has been very positively impactful,” Mariah reflected.
Their teachers couldn’t agree more. “The students who are a part of the Empower Club have grown in leadership, social awareness, care and compassion for each other, and for the school community,” one teacher shared. “They are becoming their own women in this world and leaders,” marveled another. “It’s something special—it really is.”
Are you a youth-serving professional? Join us for Collective Belonging in NYC January 29-31.
If you are inspired by how the youth at Latitude High are owning their leadership and taking action please consider donating to our year-end fundraising campaign.