On Tuesday, February 25th, Sequoyah held its first ever “DEI Day” at the high school campus. DEI Day, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Day, was a response to the Westboro Baptist Church protest that occurred on the same day in 2019. DEI Day was organized by Sequoyah’s Equity Alliance committee and was primarily created and run by students. The day was a time to reflect on last year’s protest, learn more about various aspects of identity (such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and more), and practice Sequoyah’s value of celebrating human dignity.
DEI day began as a discussion in the Equity Alliance committee about how Sequoyah can provide support for its queer students. Adella Villalba, Chair of Equity Alliance and one of the chief organizers of the event, explained that following the Westboro Baptist Church protest last year, students felt they “had too much to say and not enough time to do so.” Sequoyah has held similar teach-ins in the past on subjects like gun control and the climate crisis, and Villalba stated that queer students “wanted one for the LGBTQ+ community.” Math Department Chair Ronnie Bryan also took on a large leadership role. They said that they “quickly became a point person” for the day and led two workshops.
DEI day differed from past teach-ins in that workshops were student-run and included members of Sequoyah’s Junior High class. The event began with remarks from Head of School Josh Brody and Reverend Lissa Gundlach of the Unitarian Universalist Church, followed by a performance from queer rapper Figgy Baby. Figgy Baby’s work primarily deals with themes surrounding mixed-race identity, masculinity, and redefining gender stereotypes. Sophomore Ruby Wenzlaff said that students responded well to the performance and that having a guest from outside the immediate Sequoyah community made the day “a little bit more playful and more fun.” Following the morning meeting, there were three rounds of workshop sessions, with 14 different workshops offered in total. Workshops included topics such as “Gender Biology,” “LGBT Representation in Media,” and “Confronting our Cisgender Privilege.” After lunch, students participated in a communal quilt-making and closing councils until the end of the day.
Both student and teacher workshop leaders found their DEI day activities to be a success. Humanities teacher Julian Petri’s workshop “LGBT and Civil Rights,” co-led by Bryan, primarily focused on civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. “I thought what was important was this idea that no matter what your particular identity is there’s a reason for us to all be invested in everyone else’s social justice,” said Petri. Spanish teacher Marisol Perez said that while she was not an expert in LGBT Latinx history, her workshop was focused on “trying to learn, trying to have conversations, to think together, and to explore together.” Sophomore Rachel Knell led a workshop on the “Q” in LGBTQ– questioning. She “hoped to teach people that they can question themselves throughout their life at any point,” and that “all of that is valid.”
Students were curious about the future of DEI day. Past teach-ins have been one-time events, however DEI Day is meant to be annual. Villalba said that the Equity Alliance committee “envisioned that [DEI Day] would become a tradition… the LGBTQ+ youth in this community would know that there is a day that they can express themselves and their opinions and know that they have representation.” Community members offered various opinions on how DEI day could change in the future. Knell believes that instead of having a full day dedicated to DEI, the school should “have it during half a day, or an advisory period.” Although she enjoyed the event, she said that some might have been “discouraged by the fact that it was the whole day.” In contrast, Perez thinks that DEI Day could be improved by devoting more time to activities, specifically the quilt-making that was held after lunch.
At the end of DEI Day, Bryan thought that it was a “win” overall. They stated that they “felt really supported by and proud of the teachers” and see DEI day being more connected to Sequoyah’s curriculum in the future. “In Mod 4 we could start a project to present on DEI Day,” said Bryan, “humanities can focus on civil rights, science on gender biology, and math on statistics.” Petri also considered the day to be a success. “The atmosphere really felt like a holiday,” he said, “I felt connected to the community.”