Social Justice Leadership Institute Fosters Community Through Storytelling

Equipped with sleeping bags in Kemper Auditorium, students from schools across Massachusetts participated in the annual Social Justice Leadership Institute (SJLI), an overnight program where students of all backgrounds take part in social justice workshops. The conference began at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 2, and ended the following day at 4:00 p.m.

The SJLI has been associated with Andover for over six years and is led by the non-profit organisation Boston Mobilization. This year, other schools attending the workshop included Brooks, Phillips Academy Exeter, Governors, Nobles, Putney, Worcester Academy, and Milton.

In an announcement in The Andover Gazette, LaShawn Springer, Associate Director in College Counseling and Director of the Community and Multicultural Development Office (CAMD), wrote that the SJLI helps connect kids from different backgrounds to develop their identities and explore sensitive topics such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Other topics for the workshops include division in workplaces, social class, and particular stereotypes and taboos.

“Focused on identity development, expanded political analysis, personal leadership skills and network transformation tools, SJLI supports students as they acquire a deeper understanding of how systems of race, class, gender and sexuality impact their lives and the lives of their peers,” wrote Springer.

Founded in 1977, Boston Mobilization works with teenagers through training, campaign work, and mentorship to “[develop] the next generation of social justice leaders,” according to its website.

Pema Sherpa ’23 attended the event to meet people from other backgrounds and hear their perspectives.

“I thought it would be a really good opportunity to meet people who come from different schools, especially since Andover is a more liberal school compared to others. And I just want to see how they feel about these topics, which is really nice because I get to talk and collaborate with people who come from everywhere,” said Sherpa.

For some activities, students were divided into their own affinity groups to understand how one’s identity impacts the people around them. Storytelling was a key activity that students took part in this weekend, as they were encouraged to both tell and listen to personal stories. Many students found this part of the event particularly impactful and helpful, according to Sherpa.

“We had a speak-out, which was super fun. Basically, the different affinities went, like the white affinity, Asian affinity, Latinx affinity, and black affinity. And we all spoke up about what we deserve as an affinity group and what we’re going to commit to stop racism,” said Sherpa.

Victoria Ortiz ’23 echoed Sherpa’s sentiments regarding the affinity groups. A member of the Alianza Latina affinity group on campus, Ortiz attended the event to engage in important conversations surrounding topics she is passionate about.

Ortiz said, “My favorite part was personally the race affinity group [speak-outs]. There were a lot of people from Andover that were in the Latinx one. And so it’s really fun just to get to know them on a deeper level like that and not just through just seeing them on the paths, but being able to see what they really think about these topics.”

According to the Andover Gazette announcement, past work with SJLI in previous years has resulted in students being able to take what they have learned from the workshops and share this knowledge with their communities.

“The most powerful outcome of SJLI is the justice work that students bring back to their respective schools. Students who have expressed a desire to brush up on their facilitation skills as well as their understanding of identity, systems, and other institutional –isms are encouraged to attend. We remain committed to developing youth leadership for equity and are thankful for the opportunity to do this important work on our campus,” wrote Springer.