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Students Speak Candidly at “Names Can Really Hurt” Program

From Center for Leadership Director Kate Parker-Burgard:

“I think we felt closer as a community today than I can remember feeling in all of my eight years at St. Luke’s School,” said one St. Luke’s senior. This sentiment, echoed by many students, was shared at the conclusion of the recent daylong Upper School Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “Names Can Really Hurt Us” program. Every few years, St. Luke’s works with the ADL to bring this program to our school, and each time it creates a powerful, shared experience. The day is designed to help the community understand how stereotyping, jokes, name-calling, and rumors can negatively impact the school environment, raise awareness around how these issues affect self and a community, and to empower students to take an active role in cultivating and sustaining a respectful and inclusive school community.

On November 14, the Upper School students and faculty started the day with an assembly led by ADL facilitator Joan Edwards. Her introduction included students demonstrating the differences between a target, bystander, ally, and perpetrator. Students shared their personal experiences during a panel presentation and an open mic period.

Students broke into assigned groups, which allowed them to share in a smaller setting and discuss ways to be better allies in different situations. The day concluded with another assembly to reflect on all that had been shared during the day.

We learned so much about others in our community, and it helped all of us think about how our behavior may have contributed to challenging experiences for others. "I still use the word gay to refer to someone stupid or something I don't like, even though I know better,” one freshman said at the end of the day. “I didn't know how many students identify as gay or bi at St. Luke's. After hearing them talk today, I have to get better about how I use that word." Another reflected on how they were “awed by the candor and experiences of some of their peers.”

This change of behavior was echoed throughout the school. While one student expressed some skepticism about how long-lasting the change will be, she added, “but I know that I’m going to treat people differently from now on.” And when this commitment is felt by the majority of students in our community, our culture of kindness is deepened, and we all become better.

Thanks to the more than 70 student facilitators and faculty who participated in hours of training sessions to prepare for this event.

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St. Luke’s School is a secular private school in New Canaan, CT for grades 5 through 12 serving 25 towns in Connecticut and New York. Our exceptional academics and diverse co-educational community foster students’ intellectual and ethical development and prepare them for top colleges. St. Luke’s Center for Leadership builds the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.