Brentwood School hosted its first ever Anti-Defamation League Peer Leadership training on Aug. 16-17.
The ADL’s Peer Leadership and Peer Training programs have reached over 71 thousand students since 2004. These trainings are designed to “focus on the development of an inclusive culture and respectful school climate by addressing issues of bias and bullying,” according to the ADL Peer Leadership manual.
“We focus on facilitating discussions and dialogue,” ADL Education Director Annie Ortega said. “We are not necessarily providing all the answers that folks may want to see or hear, but we are asking that people engage in a discussion on these topics.”
14 Brentwood students participated in a variety of exercises and activities over the two-day Peer Leadership seminar. On the first day, trainees were asked to fill out a personal web identifying characteristics most important to them.
“I really liked the identity molecule,” Latino Student Association co-president and senior, Darielle Engilman said. “It’s cool for people to see that there’s multiple facets of who they are. The fact that that identity can shift on a daily basis depending on environment and experience is something I think that everyone should know.”
Participants also engaged with strategies for responding to stereotypes and prejudiced behavior and responded to mock examples of bias to prepare for difficult situations.
“Bias is universal,” Ortega said. “We want people to focus on building skills to address something that is natural and normal but that can lead to breakdowns in communication, misconceptions, and stereotypes that then lead to prejudice.”
The workshop concluded with students sharing ideas they could implement to personally contribute to the formation of a better school climate.
The training was made available to Brentwood Upper School student leaders, including senior Peer Leaders responsible for mentoring ninth graders and heads of campus affinity groups. 14 students spent 14 hours with two ADL instructors over two days.
“I think it’s really important for us, as student leaders, to have this training so that we can pass it on to our peers,” Engilman said. “I really see this type of training being useful at one of our [LSA] meetings.”
The ADL was established in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism and other biases and prejudices. The nonprofit promotes the idea that all people deserve to be safe from discrimination and treated as “equals, worthy of shared opportunity and a place in the American dream,” according to its website.
Ortega said the Peer Leadership curriculum is customized to the needs of each school and organization that hosts the training. Beforehand, Ortega met with Brentwood School Director of Equity and Inclusion Trina Moore-Southall and Director of Student Life and Service Learning Catherine Zusky to discuss their goals.
“All prejudice can be unlearned,” Ortega said. “The first thing is to look at ourselves and look inward at the biases that we hold.”
Ortega said her goal is for Brentwood’s Peer Leadership training to have a positive impact on the entire Brentwood School community.
“The hope is that we have also helped provide some extra tools to maintain a respectful, inclusive school community where everyone feels they belong,” Ortega said.
Moore-Southall participated in and observed both days of the workshop.
“I feel really proud,” Moore-Southall said. “Hearing the way in which our students speak about things is impressive.”
Moore-Southall said she plans to host ADL trainings biennially for Brentwood students.
Disclaimer: the author of this article was a student participant in the ADL training.