ADL aims to create “a world of difference”

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Photo from newengland.adl.org

The “A World Of Difference” logo

The Westford Academy community is made up of people of all ages, people who identify as any gender or sexuality, and people of any race or ethnicity. As a community, WA is diverse in many ways. But along with all of these differences come bias, micro-aggressions, and discrimination.

The AWOD ADL (A World Of Difference Anti-Defamation League) works to make everyone feel safe and to educate people so that there can be equity and inclusion in the whole community, for not only students, but staff as well. The ADL advisors at WA are science coordinator Jennifer Kravitz, Spanish teacher Kristin Morris, guidance counselor Tracy McLaughlin, and English teacher Janet Keirstead.

The AWOD ADL educates the WA community on the diversity of the student population. Someone who is involved with the ADL community will also start to appreciate themself.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion effects have always been important to senior Jazmin Rodriguez since she is Latina. Being part of ADL has given her and many other minority students a place to listen and learn about personal experiences.

“I wanted to apply so that I could work towards overcoming my personal biases, and help others do so as well. […] I wanted to push myself to be more verbal and learn more about other communities,” Rodriguez said. “Not only that, the ADL group fosters meaningful conversations about change, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it is a group where our voices can truly make a difference in our school community.”

Morris believes that this year, ADL is off to a slow start because more than half the student body is at home on a Google Meet at any given time. As peer leaders, ADL members will have to look at things another way and add a whole new level to training to still spread its positive effects to the community during the pandemic.

“We’re entering a whole new world of teaching, and for students, [they’re] entering a whole new world of being in the classroom,” Morris said. “So micro-aggressions before would occur within those four walls of a room […] But now you’re in a Google Meet. What kind of micro-aggressions could be occurring?”

Morris became involved with ADL because she was passionate about equality and other cultures. She was also part of ADL at Stony Brook Middle School. Her work with Big Brothers Big Sisters in the United States also helped her understand classism and similar issues.

“[My passion for equality] comes from just personal experiences growing up in Ecuador, and showed me firsthand the disasters that showed me classism and what happens when people associate others’ value with finances,” Morris said.

The ADL group is a group that Rodriguez feels most comfortable speaking openly with.

“It is a fantastic group of students that all want to be together, while learning about each other and our communities,” Rodriguez said. “There are no outsiders, and everyone is welcome.”

Morris thinks one of the most rewarding things that comes out of being a member is that you get to directly work with your peers and help them be part of the community.

“We had our first [ADL] meeting two weeks ago. And honestly, I was blown away. It is a gift to work with these students and the conversation we had was just amazing,” Morris said. “We’re dealing with some pretty tough stuff and we have a very diverse group as well. […] I just was very proud to say that I’m an advisor for ADL.”

Morris advises any student who is interested in the effect of micro-aggressions, bias, and similar issues to read about them. She also urges any student or member of the WA community who feels they are at risk should reach out to someone they trust and let them know and ask for help.

Rodriguez recommends joining ADL, as it helped her become better at presentations and discussions and it allowed her to push herself out of her comfort zone

“I have become a better speaker and listener, and I have formed many close relationships because of this group,” Rodriguez said. “I have learned so many valuable lessons [because of ADL], and I would recommend it to everyone I know.”

Rodriguez thinks that you can never tell anyone to completely change their mind or open up to new ideas, but you can start the conversation, and leave them thinking about what you’ve said. She said ADL wants people to start examining their own biases, and think about how they might be able to overcome them. Any student who is interested in being part of the ADL program can reach out to Morris at [email protected].

“Many students come to WA ashamed of who they are, whether that be through race, religion, class,” Morris said. “And I hope that our work through ADL helps them realize they are just as valuable members of our community as everyone else and that they need to be respected and treated as such.”