After the protests and conversations that filled the end of last school year, it became evident to students in the Grace community that we desperately needed change. That feeling is what has pushed James Danziger ’21, Kai Williams ’21, and Henry Pallesen ’21 to take a leading role in the journey towards anti-racism at Grace.
The three seniors, all of whom were elected to student government a few weeks ago, have made it their top priority to promote discussions about racism at Grace this year. Pallesen, who was elected grade representative for the third year in a row, said that “It is our priority because from what we have heard it is also the students’ priority. I am really happy that the students’ goals for this year are aligned with the government’s.” Student interest in these discussions has helped the senior leaders serve as advocates for students to the administration. Pallesen continued to say that “It becomes really easy to get the administration to do what we want when the majority of students are on our side.” This became extremely useful last week when the student government drafted an open letter to the administration on behalf of all Grace students.
After the exhausting presidential election process, the student government wrote to the administration that it would be best for teachers to “Excuse any and all absences [and] cancel all majors and reschedule them to Q2,” as students were drained from watching the fate of our democracy unfold. Danziger, who was elected student leader, was receptive to complaints from the community and worked quickly to quell the concerns of the student body.
According to Danziger, “students were not in the right frame of mind to be focused on classes, nor should they have been. It went further than that for some students, as many POC shouldn’t have had to work on school while watching systemic racism both in and out of our community play out in real-time.”
In order to fill the time that would have been taken up by assignments, the student government also suggested that the administration use community meeting as a time for discussion about anti-racism at the school. To the delight of the student government, the administration worked quickly to put everything together, accepting the requests, and hosting a discussion on Wednesday concerning anti-racism. This was the first example of a possibly powerful partnership between the government and the administration that should last throughout the whole year.
Pallesen believes that the main reason for their success so far, besides the determination of the student representatives, is COVID. “I actually think the pandemic has helped us organize these discussions because there is less actually going on in the school so community meetings and intersession weeks are good times for discussion,” he said. The government hopes to continue the meetings similar to the one that happened last Wednesday throughout the entire year.
On top of this, the senior leaders of the school also hope to work with the newly established Senior Advisory Board and Student Diversity Council to help set agendas and open spaces for discussion. With James, Kai, and Henry all on the Senior Advisory Board, it should be easy for them to promote the group’s interests through the student government. According to Danziger, the student government has also “added two new positions to the Student Government Charter: the SDC rep and the SAB rep,” in order to maintain a working relationship with the two bodies.
When asked about the two entities Williams stated, “I think my goal for SDC is them becoming a more visible group in our school. I feel like in past years we’ve talked about the SDC but no one really knows what they do and/or people don’t really engage. For the Senior Advisory Board, my plan is to create events and spaces where honest and transparent conversations can occur.” Working with these two groups should help the student government accomplish their goals this year, leading to a lasting impact on the community.
James, Kai, and Henry have all taken an important leadership role this year with the goal of leaving a lasting impact on Grace. It became clear to these three that the school needed their guidance in its effort towards becoming an antiracist institution. Through their work with the Senior Advisory Board and the Student Diversity Council, the student government will aim to promote discussion and learning that will go far beyond their time at Grace.