Students divided on impact of Seminar Day

Students leave long-awaited...Seminar Day..with.mixed feelings

Husnain Raza

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On Feb. 28 of this year, instead of attending normal classes, New Trier students attended the school’s Seminar Day, which incited much controversy among parents, students, and media outlets.

This is the second year in which New Trier has allotted a school day to talk about racial issues. Last year, New Trier held seminars on Martin Luther King Day, a day normally observed as a school holiday. This decision sparked coverage from conservative news outlet, Breitbart.

This year, 77 percent of all students attended the day, which is an 18 percent decrease from the average daily attendance of 95 percent, according to the administration. This is a 10 percent increase from last year’s seminar day. In 2017, 67 percent of students attended school on the day, according to the school.

The New Trier student body had a range of reactions to the Seminar Day, from strongly supporting it to strongly disagreeing with what the day promoted. Senior Hannah Peterson supported the day. “I like what we did last year. I learned a lot about diversity and race. It’s always nice not to have class, but I think the seminars that we have are very informative,” she said.

Some students have said that the Seminar Day was one-sided and did not provide enough perspectives from various sides of the political spectrum.

“The whole day was liberal and left leaning opinions. I feel like we should have had more seminars that were right leaning. I care more about intellectual diversity rather than racial diversity,” Junior Michael Hudson said.

On the other hand, some students expressed their support for the day. Junior Peter Murray said that “A lot of people think that they are forcing an agenda, but I think it’s a good idea to just have a conversation about it and to hear opinions from both sides. I liked how there was a lot of choices for the sessions. That way you could choose what you wanted.”

This year, students chose two sessions from over one hundred offerings that were held covering a variety of topics including race and housing, cultural appropriation, implicit biases, racism in the media, and the role of race in the 2016 election cycle.

Two National Book Award winners were invited to be keynote speakers at the day — Colson Whitehead, author of books including “The Intuitionist” and “Underground Railroad,” who spoke at the Winnetka campus— and Andrew Aydin, author of the book “MARCH,” who spoke at the Northfield campus.

In contrast to last year, the 2017 Seminar Day received more backlash from various media sources. Peter Berkowitz, who contributed an opinion to the Wall Street Journal said, “Instead of teaching, the school’s aim seems to be hammering home to students that racism plagues America and will persist until white people admit their unjust privilege.”

Warner Todd Huston, who writes for Breitbart News said, “[New Trier] is taking the Obama education agenda all the way with new classes and seminars that teach a long list of other far-left activist ideas.”

There were also complaints from within the New Trier community.

Criticism from parents caused the formation of an organization called “Parents of New Trier.” They launched a website explaining why having Seminar Day was harmful. In their words, the Seminar Day contained “biased content and misinformation” and that “parents were excluded from input into the Seminar Day despite attempts by many parents to be constructively included.”

Many students elaborated their concerns about the day.

Sophomore Emmett Hulseman stated that the day could have had a more contemporary focus, “a lot of it was past day problems, there wasn’t as many in the current day as there should be.”

Junior Alex Harris also stated that he felt the day was not needed, “people [at New Trier] are educated enough about what is happening in the world.”

However, New Trier remained adamant in their decision to hold Seminar Day.

“Race is one of the most difficult things to talk about. Ultimately, our belief is that our students should be thinking and talking about race,” Assistant Superintendent Tim Hayes said.

In an official statement by the New Trier Board of Education regarding the day, the school rejected the claim that Seminar Day had any “political or social agenda being promoted; this is not about taking sides or right vs. wrong opinions. There is only an educational mission, just as there is during the other 182 days of the school year.”

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