Spring Community Gathering shines spotlight on belonging and service

Groton students and faculty took a break from classes on April 18 for a Spring Community Gathering that focused on conversation, reflection, and service.
Following chapel, students and faculty attended morning and afternoon student-led breakout sessions held across campus (thirty-one were offered in total), performed service projects throughout the region, or in some cases did both.
“This day is about deliberate community building,” said Director of Diversity and Inclusion Sravani Sen-Das, who organized the event alongside Director of Community Engagement Elizabeth Phan and Director of Alumni Engagement Allison MacBride.

Soon after Groton formalized its Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) framework in 2013, a Diversity and Inclusion Committee was established to get input from Fifth and Sixth Form students. By cueing off of student concerns and experiences instead of delivering policy from the top down, the D&I team developed a model where adults and students can work together to better bring important diversity and inclusion–related issues to light.

“We wanted to build leadership from the student body, because we recognize that issues of belonging have to do with campus climate,” Ms. Sen-Das explained. “As much as we do work in the classroom, and as much as it is built into the ethos of our school, the most powerful messaging comes from student leaders and peers. Our population reacts to narratives and first-person experience, and hears it the best.” 

In developing topics for discussion and planning sessions for the day, students are encouraged to work with faculty to refine structure, sourcing, and presentation style for what can sometimes be frank or delicate conversations. By doing so, Ms. Sen-Das said, they’re learning interpersonal skills that complement their more formal education. 

“It’s really developing our students’ soft skills,” she said. “It’s preparing them for a very diverse world. It’s teaching them how to be more self-aware, how to take your place in a community where compromise and heightened listening and attention skills are required of us. It complements the work we are doing in our classrooms and the work we do with the Global Education Program. It is really teaching them how to be human and be citizens of the world instead of just following punitive policies and rules. It’s more towards understanding and compassion.”

Topics ranged in themes from several dealing with gender—including “Toxic Masculinity in the Media,” “Mexican Feminism: Fighting For Gender Equality in a Developing Country,” and “Misogynoir: A Deeper Dive”—to discussions of current events and issues like artificial intelligence, the Israel-Hamas war, social media use, and book banning, to more personal discussions about being a person of color or an international student at Groton.

In addition, two Alumni GCE (Groton Community Engagement) Panels were held featuring alumni currently working in the nonprofit sector, including ChildSavers CEO Bobby Bolling ’76, Horizons for Homeless Children Director of Evaluation and Public Policy Brendan M. Fogarty ’08, Overdeck Family Foundation Manager of Portfolio Success and Operations Lucy M. Brainard ’14, and Lemontree Executive Director Kasumi Quinlan ’15. 

Service opportunities abounded as well, with students offering a helping hand at thirty nonprofits and other community organizations in Groton, Acton, Ayer, Devens, Leominster, and Lowell. 

Ms. Sen-Das said taking the day off from classes for community engagement, service, and discussion makes a statement to everyone at Groton about the importance of those messages.

“We recognize that D&I messaging has to be explicit and, in order to be explicit, we need to put it at the center of our school and not leave it down in the fringes and the margins,” she said. “Because one of the things that students say is, what are we doing to help them understand what it is to be part of a diverse campus? So taking time off in a school day shows that this is central to our values and ethos. The centrality speaks to how important we think it is.”

With feedback already coming in from participants, Ms. Sen-Das said the day was another success.

“People felt they had sat through an important conversation, learned something new, and were really impressed with the way the students had come up with presentations, sources, and discussion questions,” she said. “And, honestly, it is the best affirmation about the work we’re doing in our classrooms. Because they’re not just learning to lecture. They’re learning how to present, how to bring in legit sources, how to do discussion questions. To me, these are such valuable skills that they’re learning.”