Just as students were wrapping up their final projects and making end-of-semester presentations, so too were two Brooks School teachers.
Dean of Academic Affairs Susanna Waters and History Teacher Amanda Nasser presented "Past Meets Present: Indigenous Land Acknowledgments," at The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) virtual Better Together 2020 Conference for more than 100 boarding school faculty and administrators on December 10.
Sharing the land acknowledgment that their "How Did Massachusetts Get Its Name?" Winter Term developed in January — to recognize indigenous peoples' presence and connection with the land — the duo celebrated students' work and advised educators on how their own schools can research, create and promote the acknowledgment of Native American history in their community.
Other topics in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion track of presentations at the Asheville, North Carolina-based TABS conference included "#blackatboarding: The Journey Toward Racial Justice in Boarding Schools," "Cultural Competency in Boarding Schools: What Leaders Need to Know" and "Racial Justice and Inclusion in Boarding Schools: Engaging the Conversations We're Not Having."
"Presenting at TABS is a wonderful opportunity because we hope [the creation of land acknowledgments] catches on," said Waters prior to the presentation. "We would love every school to acknowledge the indigenous people on whose land they live and learn. It led to important self-examination for our school and challenged us to be more thoughtful, compassionate and anti-racist community members, while encouraging us toward increased social activism and civic engagement."
Waters and Nasser had applied to present a poster at the conference back in March. TABS leaders asked them to expand upon their work, instead, and create a full session for attendees. "That was exciting," she recalled. "It signaled that others in the boarding school community would be interested in learning more."
It is as valuable for educators as students to familiarize themselves with land acknowledgments, after all. The statements "encourage a more expansive and inclusive lens of non-white lived experiences across a range of disciplines, starting right at home with the land beneath your feet," Waters insisted.
As for the particular benefit to students, one need only look to the teacher's experience this past year at Brooks. "Thinking about land use and indigenous populations has encouraged our students to consider their racial and economic privilege and to think critically about the role of bias in how the master narrative of local, and more generally American, history has been shaped," said Waters.
"The more questions we ask and research, the more connections are made between past and present, as well as introductions to new resources that are interesting both as history enthusiasts and residents of the Merrimack Valley and the North Shore," she added.
"For example, now when my students or I am hiking a local trail, we are thinking about who lived off this land centuries ago and considering how they used it, which improves our observational skills as naturalists and increases our enjoyment of the experience. At the same time, we are aware now of the injustices perpetrated that displaced the original inhabitants of where we live and attend school. Reckoning with a racist past makes us more conscious of our choices and actions present day."
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