Landmark High School celebrated its Sixth International Day on Wednesday, April 3. The program included presentations, videos, and slideshows in the Black Box Theater by members of the International Group and faculty. Each year, the group selects a theme, and for 2019 the group chose "The Danger of a Single Story."
The concept of the danger of a single story was introduced in the powerful 2009 Ted talk by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She explained how humans, races, countries, and situations can be reduced to a stereotype when people make assumptions or generalizations rather than considering the rich tapestry and complexities of a culture. The result is an incomplete picture and misunderstanding of others.
The "problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,” Adichie said in the talk.
Celebrating Landmark's Diversity
The purpose of the day and mission of the International Group is to foster a sense of identity, acceptance, and belonging for the international community, as well as to explore, raise awareness, and honor Landmark's rich cultural and ethnic diversity.
Landmark High School teacher Kanella Zaralides spearheaded the effort. "As humans, we are wired for bias and often prone to adopting these single stories. However, one should not feel guilty of that intrinsic bias but, rather, work to reduce its potential effects,” she said. “We can use this awareness to motivate ourselves to learn a more complete story beyond the stereotypes. As our societies become more global, collaborative, and inclusive, our interactions should ideally grow to be more nuanced and respectful of the diverse backgrounds that create the rich tapestry of our community."
Personal Experiences with the Single Story Concept
Jamaal Dixon, a teacher at the High School, explained that when he first attended a private middle school that was predominantly white, he made his own assumption—he assigned his peers to a single story. "I assumed all the white kids were rich. But I found out many of them were middle class like me," he said.
Ndaua Ndilula '20, who is from Namibia, said when he first came to the United States, he was asked if he wore clothes at home. In the media, most of what people see about Africa is "violence or poverty," he said. "It would be like if the U.S. was only known for the violence that happens here."
Ms. Zaralides, the lead faculty advisor of the International Group, asked the audience what they consider to be the single story of Landmark students. People in the audience offered, "stupid," "can’t read," "dyslexic." She affirmed that these are just one side—the single story—of many students here but there are many more attributes that define us.
In another session, students presented biographies of prominent figures and activists, such as inventor Otis Boykin; the Black Panthers, an activist organization that challenged police brutality; and rapper/criminal justice reform activist Meek Mill. Aliyah Knudsen '21 shared her experience being adopted from Ethiopia and making the transition to an entirely different culture.
International students and those with close ties to foreign countries debunked stereotypes about those cultures and countries.
Sunaina Hoon ‘22 highlighted several common misconceptions about life in India, including poverty, overpopulation, and whether there are elephants everywhere. She said that someone once even asked her if she kept an elephant in her basement. “No!” She acknowledged that there are places in the country where there is extreme poverty and overpopulation, but there is also a growing middle class there. Technology has brought with it the ability for many people to rise out of their impoverished backgrounds. She said that India is more modern than most people think. “We have everything you have here except Chipotle!”
Andy Leshaw '21, from Colombia shared, "Everyone wants to know if you are related to Pablo Escobar if you are from Colombia, which I’m not! People assume that you have some relationship to individuals in the drug culture of my country. It’s a common misconception we are working really hard to correct, but we have a long way to go with a longstanding civil war still raging.” He talked about the natural beauty of the country and its rainforest, orange groves, and diverse climates.
Yasmine Mostoufi ’22 said that her father, a doctor from Iran, sometimes faces discrimination from patients who make assumptions about him. She visited Iran eight years ago and remembers it as one of the most beautiful places she’d ever been, ripe with gorgeous art, rugs, and culture.
Pedro Slomp ‘19, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has faced similar assumptions about his country. He acknowledged that there are many pockets of his country, especially Rio, that are unsafe and known for violence. “A Landmark student once asked me if my dad was a drug lord. No, my dad is not a drug lord.” He confirmed that some stereotypes are accurate. “We do eat a lot of rice and beans — even for breakfast. And yes, kids learn to play soccer at a very early age and it’s a huge part of the culture. It is also true that we love to dance and it’s a big part of our culture and especially Carnivale. Something people don’t know about Brazil is that it has one of the largest populations of Africans outside of Africa. We are a very diverse culture.”
Isabel West '20 and Lydia Jackson '20 discussed a monthly roundtable discussion they initiated. On the first Monday of each month, students meet at the Atomic Cafe in Beverly to discuss controversial topics, which have included age discrimination, border security and immigration, climate change, and mental illness. The concept is to learn about the views of others without judgment.
Travel for a Cause
Landmark teachers who spent March break volunteering at schools in Mozambique recounted their life-changing journey. Scott Blanchette, Michelle Boucher, and Mr. Dixon showed slideshows of the schools they visited. The classes ranged from small and intimate (think Landmark) to large and loud. But the students all embraced their studies and their American visitors. The presentation and the meaningful Q&A session that followed gave the Landmark community valuable perspective.
Two groups of Landmark students visited the Dominican Republic over spring break. Gillian Garvey '19, Gaby Kenney '20, and Jamie Pehl '21 reported on their visit to Nuestros Hermanos Pequenos (My Little Brothers and Sisters) orphanage, where they had spent a week working with the children. Ethan Kerr '21, Erin Morrisseau '20, and Violet Tetel '21 shared their stories of mixing concrete to build and restore people’s homes in area villages.
Katya Leikikh '20 told the audience about her summer trip to Nepal, where she lived with a family there and did infrastructure work.
Other faculty members closely involved with the initiative include: Jennifer Day, Mr. Dixon, Kylie Murphy, Eleni Nikitas, Victoria Tansey, and Caroline Teague.