Some semesters start just like any other. And some semesters are different. The Spring 2017 semester begins in historic fashion, as the Trump Administration and its adversaries do historic battle in our backyard.
After a jubilant move-in and opening meeting welcome from SEGL trustee Dr. Gene Batiste, our students met their first leadership challenge of the semester: to decide as a group between three separate DC expeditions without any guidance from our faculty. The choice was Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, a city treasure with a fascinating history and terrific view.
We then returned for our first semester dinner (empanadas and salad) and our opening session–a chance to break the ice and review guidelines that will help each student maximize her semester’s potential. Then it was home (yes, home!) to Capitol Hill for dorm meeting and a good night’s sleep.
Sunday morning brought pancakes and eggs, optional church services, a run on the National Mall, a trip to the drug store for missing essentials, and a return Metro trip to our Dupont Circle Academic Building.
On that Metro trip, they saw hundreds of protesters headed to a large protest denouncing President Trump’s controversial Executive Order. That protest, and similar demonstrations around the country, dominated national news all weekend.
SEGL is an intentionally nonpartisan school that seeks to provide its students the “best possible opportunity to shape themselves into ethical leaders.” Given that mission, we asked our students if they were interested in attending as observers. After a short conversation, our students voted unanimously to alter our normal schedule and visit the protest.
A twenty-minute walk and a safety talk later, we were amidst a sea of signs, chants, and demonstrators. Many students snapped photos, reflected, and asked the protesters questions about their beliefs. Some chose to join in the chants, and others chose not to. After 45 minutes, we returned home, gave them two articles with opposing views on Trump’s executive order, and alternated between news coverage from Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera. (One eerie moment: as the students were reading this article, a Fox News commentator suggested viewers read it.)
After a short discussion filled with lots of questions, the students had “choreientation” (an introduction to the Academic building chore program) and their first advisor meetings.
We then embarked on a series of SEGL’s classic low ropes course-style activities: trust falls (fully supervised, of course!), the Minefield, the Dream Reach, and the treacherous Spiderweb. In addition to accelerating our positive group dynamic, these activities are designed to help each student reflect on her/his leadership and collaboration skills: to provide a base line from which to grow.
After dinner from District Taco (a local DC favorite), we discussed the four keys to success in SEGL’s academic program (we will let you speak with a current student to hear more!):
- Being smart doesn’t make you smart. Practice makes you smart.
- The best learning happens in an atmosphere of shared vulnerability. If you are afraid of sounding dumb, you won’t learn.
- Narrow your gap.
- “It is no use trying to be clever. We are all clever here. Just try to be kind; a little kind.”
Then it was time to start our first academic session. Like many things in our first few days together, our first academic session is an SEGL tradition. Together we watched live CNN coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks–a difficult thing even for these students, most of whom have no memory of the day–and then we reflected on the aftermath and meaning of those events.
Our conversation afterwards was insightful and intense, and every student participated at least once. The discussion was also filled with many connections–personal and intellectual–to the attacks. The conversation was an extraordinary start for an already-memorable group of young people who are clearly ready for an historic semester.
Today we chased after Skittles (more on that later this week) and classes began!
(A reminder to click on each photo below for a larger image.)