Lawrentians Engage in MLK Day Webinars and Discussions

This past Saturday, March 27, and Monday, March 28, Lawrentians participated in a reconstructed version of the school’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day of service event.

This past Saturday, March 27, and Monday, March 28, Lawrentians participated in a reconstructed version of the school’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day of service event. Over the course of two days, students engaged in discussions regarding mindsets of service, intention, and the effects that privilege can have on community engagement. Students continued to learn more about their service topics in areas including education, hunger, poverty, public health, the environment, social justice, and senior citizens. The events culminated on Monday, when Lawrentians were asked to reflect on their experience in short-answer form.

Students on the MLK Committee Ariana Codjoe ’21, Zack Finacchio ’21, Joshua Cigoianu ’22, and StuCo Community Service Representative Lauren McKinnon ’21 worked with Lawrenceville Director of Community Service Rachel Cantlay P’07 ’09 ’11, Associate Director of Community Service Elizabeth Ferguson, and the Community Service Department to implement this year’s modified MLK Day of Service.

On Saturday, students attended a webinar which aimed to increase awareness behind the service they were doing. Saturday’s events consisted of a 10:30 AM webinar with Natalie Tung ’14 and Kristina Schulte P ’15, followed by student-led breakout rooms where students discussed the webinar and some example situations about service mindsets.

The webinar began with Cigoianu explaining some “helpful definitions” about service, such as direct service learning, which he defined as “face-to-face service projects in which students directly impact individuals.” Codjoe continued by explaining privilege, voluntourism, and the white savior complex, which happens when “outsiders to disenfranchised communities engage in self-centered service.”

Next, Cigoianu introduced Tung, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of HomeWorks Trenton, Trenton’s first non-profit after-school residential program. McKinnon, Tung, and Schulte engaged in a question and answer discussion regarding service mindsets and how to do community service in a respectful and impactful way. McKinnon presented the speakers with questions ranging from “Why do we serve?” to “How can one combat the white savior complex?” to “How does privilege relate to service?”

Both speakers drew on previous personal experiences with community service to explain the importance of intention and a good service mindset. “Instead of going in [to the Trenton community] and imposing what I want, I aimed to really listen to what the community wants and work alongside them,” Tung shared.

Reflecting on the webinar and the breakout room conversation, Stella Mulvihill ’21 said, “It was really interesting to hear about the white savior complex, and it made me more cognizant and aware of how often we see the white savior complex in social media...I also really enjoyed the scenarios they gave us in the breakout rooms, but there were times it didn’t feel like the conversation was as productive as it could have been because very few people were talking and contributing to the discussion.”

In the breakout rooms, students engaged in conversations surrounding service mindsets and their own relationship with service. Zoha Khan ’22, leader of one of the post-webinar breakout room discussions, believed that “having these discussions on a much smaller scale [is important] because it allows people to feel more comfortable…discussing topics that people aren’t typically well versed on. It allows for a collaborative environment when it comes to self-reflection and clearing up confusion around issues.”

On Monday, students gathered in their topic groups to attend lectures from local community members, such as listening to participants from the NJ Special Olympics and coordinators from local organizations like Arm in Arm and Homefront.

In the poverty group, students attended a lecture from Meg Cubano from Homefront, who explained Homefront’s mission and the effects of Covid-19 on the organization’s work. “We’ve been supporting more families than ever because of [Covid-19]...it’s really been a struggle for everyone, so we’re just really glad that we’ve been able to provide housing to over 600 people and over 300,000 meals,” she said.

For the social justice group, former resident of the Kennedy House Amy Julia Becker spoke to students about how she had to acknowledge her own privilege before she was able to effectively serve her community. “I was born into a white, wealthy family,” she noted, “and I had to keep that in mind as I did outreach into less fortunate communities.” Becker went on to outline three steps students should take when launching a community service project. “Work with your heart, heads, and hands,” Becker said, “that’s the best way I’ve found to approach service with pure intentions.”

Reflecting on MLK Day events as a whole, Codjoe shared, “I think it went well. I was really excited for the way the information was presented with all the different webinars and presentations. [The events] captured everything that we wanted it to capture, and I really enjoyed discussing things in the breakout rooms...We had a lot of good discussion that was both prompted and unprompted, and a lot of people shared opinions that I hadn’t yet considered.”

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