Cultures of Dignity Addresses School Community

Co-Founders of Cultures of Dignity Charlie Kuhn and Rosalind Wiseman addressed the School community at last Tuesday’s Residential Life Meeting.

Co-Founders of Cultures of Dignity Charlie Kuhn and Rosalind Wiseman addressed the School community at last Tuesday’s Residential Life Meeting. According to its official website, the organization “works with communities to shift the way [they] think about young people’s physical and emotional wellbeing.” Both Kuhn and Wiseman have worked extensively with multiple secondary institutions and adolescents across the country. Their speech at Lawrenceville was a part of the administration’s broader initiative to introduce students to a developing program focused on bridging the gap between different sources of misunderstandings on campus.

On the purpose of the School’s collaboration with Cultures of Dignity, Assistant Dean of Students Emilie Kosoff H’88 ’96 ’00 ’18 P’19 said, “If we can begin to put ourselves through practices and exercises that can help us think a little bit more consciously about the way we interact, then we can all become better dealing with conflict, resolution, and recognizing when a situation isn’t right.”

She later added that the program still reflects a “work-in-progress” and that the administration encourages student feedback. According to Kosoff, the vision intends to “bring Lawrenceville’s mission to life” by creating a more united campus.

The speech began with a brief introduction of Kuhn and Wiseman’s individual backgrounds and their organization’s mission. The educators then asked students to consider their personal lives at Lawrenceville and what the word “happiness” means, stressing upon the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

The pair then transitioned into a discussion about School rules, particularly ‘lights out,’ and encouraged students to consider why specific rules are implemented. “Rules are an extension of principles,” Wiseman said. “The principles of how a school runs most definitely impacts all aspects of Lawrenceville.” She then added that when concrete principles are established, “if students and faculty disagree with the rules, at least the institution has a strong building block.”

Khun and Wiseman concluded the speech by encouraging students to voice their concerns and opinions in order to further improve the program’s vision. To facilitate the provision of community feedback, the administration believes its “next step is thinking about how to put this out to the community.” It additionally aims to “refine these principles” to make them more specific to Lawrenceville, Kosoff said.

According to Wiseman, no concrete steps have yet been taken in improving campus culture because thus far, the administration has been primarily involved in the discussion phase.

“Hopefully, we got the buy-in from the School, and we can now begin the ‘hard-work,’” Wiseman said. Once the program gains traction, the administration hopes to potentially hold more mid-year summits that include kids and faculty interested in the program and relay principles created by Cultures of Dignity to the different student councils. “We hope to broadly have our student leadership engaged in these conversations because as they become more engaged, we leverage what is best: the community,” Kosoff said.

Kyle Park ’23 said that the speech “was helpful especially because coming in as a [II Former], [he] was not sure what [rules there are] and their values.” He continued, “It is cool to see how rule, culture, and dignity are in relationship with one another. I look forward to this program settling at Lawrenceville. Even if it doesn’t work out, we still approached the level where we have a new standard in culture.”

While Park reflected a positive view, it seems that most students left the meeting with uncertainties on the program’s purpose and actions it plans to take. Victoria Gong ’21 said, “It is good that they made the speech interactive, but I would appreciate it if they talked more on their prior experience in working with students on the topic of dignity and school culture.”

Lara Hensler ’22 expressed that she found the speech to be “confusing” and “did not see where it was going.” She added, “I think that if they explained what their goal was, then it would’ve helped our understanding,”

Similarly, Abby Sieler ’21 said, “While I appreciated what [Khun and Wiseman] were going for, I thought that [the speech] was really vague. They kept saying how the work they were doing was important, but they did not say what work they were actually doing, which left me very confused. Additionally, I didn’t think that the speech was very down to earth, and it felt very artificial. I wish that they were more authentic and had more of a point to their presentation—it seemed very aimless.” Extending beyond Wiseman and Khun’s presentation at school meeting, Spanish Master Joaquin Gonzalez H’12 said, “Any efforts made to create an inclusive culture that talks about dignity and respect for others and oneself should be welcomed… the efficiency of the attempts are not the questions.”

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