The stated mission of St Mary’s Academy’s UNITE Day reads “By implementing a day committed to equity and inclusion, we strive to promote cultural relevancy, identify and eliminate microaggressions and discrimination, remind ourselves of the necessity of environmental conservation, and inspire positive change as we refocus the lens of social justice on our own community,” but in the words of senior Madeleine Adriance, UNITE Day student director, UNITE is about telling stories. “The power of story, this year’s UNITE theme, is at the core of equity and inclusion work, as ultimately equity and inclusion is about uplifting stories that have been marginalized and recognizing how the stories of others can intersect positively with our own.”
While 2019 marks only the second year of UNITE Day, its legacy goes back over 20 years to what started as SMA’s annual Poverty Awareness Day. As shared by campus ministry staff member and theology teacher Maura Timoney-DeVille ’09, “Poverty Awareness Day was designed to bring awareness to people living in the margins without access to basic resources.” The shift to UNITE Day came after a group of St. Mary’s students were invited to attend Oregon Episcopal School’s Culture Shock Day and left determined to bring something similar to St. Mary’s. From there, the idea for Unite Day was born.
In short, the day consists of student and community-member led workshops focused on equity and inclusion with specific relevance to the St. Mary’s community. This year, twenty different workshops featured topics that included Asian American Representation in the Media; Black Hair: Why You Can’t Touch My Crown; Confronting Hate in High Schools; Destigmatizing Islam, Immigrant and Refugee Youth in Portland; and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, but We All Live on Earth.
While UNITE Day comes to life once a year, the reality is that it’s the culmination of months of planning and preparation. In the fall, students were invited to apply to present to their peers at UNITE Day. Those selected spent the following six months turning topics important to them into content for a 70-minute workshop. The associated curriculum included objective setting, public speaking, slide development, and facilitation. Students worked alongside faculty mentors to bring their workshops to fruition and then rehearsed for peer audiences prior to UNITE Day.
2019 marked the first year St. Mary’s offered a companion UNITE Night for all members of the SMA community to experience first-hand the workshops prepared by students.
In reflecting on UNITE Day, faculty advisor Caitlin Whitty ’08 shares, “I’m proud that we have so many students who are willing to be vulnerable and self-reflective enough to put something together for their fellow students to grow in empathy for communities other than their own, and are also willing to take on a tremendous amount of work outside of their classrooms to educate their peers.”