'We Are': The importance of celebrating community

Posted on: 01 Mar 2021

Nathalie Whittington, an English teacher and head of wellbeing at Dulwich College, looks back on the school’s Identity Awareness Month, which focused on community and interdependence this year.

The month of February is devoted to inviting our staff and pupils to reflect on an aspect of identity. Dulwich College Identity Awareness Month – shortened to DC IAM – was created from an understanding that we need to provide the space for exploration, discussion, debate and celebration of the vastness of identity. As our wellbeing pupil prefect said of DC IAM’s inaugural year last year: “We hope to empower variety, acceptance and respect. In this way we hope that the spiritual, intellectual and emotional distinctions between us are able to flourish - and you are proud and able to be your authentic self.”

This year, DC IAM’s focus turned its attention to We Are and a consideration of community. In a year in which ‘self-isolation’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘remote’ have all been ways of living that we have had to adopt, we wanted to spend this month remembering the importance of interdependence: of staying connected, of being a part of a community, and of our responsibility towards one another.

We were delighted to welcome Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin to share a message with pupils and staff to launch the month. As part of this message, Bishop Rose explored the philosophy of Ubuntu. The word Ubuntu is part of the Zulu phrase Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which literally means that a person is a person through other people – ‘I am because we are’. This concept underpinned the events and focus of the month.

In a true sense of embodying the values of the month, our whole community was involved. The various clubs and societies turned their attentions to exploring the concept of community. Areas such as kindness, letter writing, and the influence of the ancient world were explored, along with different examples of communities from the history of our local area, communities of artists and social enterprises. Pupils and staff collaborated on the creation of a DC IAM We Are playlist recognising the contribution of music towards our understanding of togetherness and as a vehicle for social justice. Junior School pupils had the opportunity to take part in a range of community-themed workshops, such as learning about entrepreneurs in developing countries, analysing ecosystems and animal approaches to community, exploring town planning to benefit a local community, and designing the perfect school!

Our digital community of pupils from Year 2 up to Year 13 also came together on Safer Internet Day to share advice on how to be a safe, kind and empowered online citizen and community. In a creative interpretation of the ‘We Are’ theme, The Big DC IAM Selfie challenge invited all of our staff and pupils to upload a ‘selfie’ to contribute to a collection that was then shared in a film – the caption stating: Hundreds of faces. One Community. Together we are stronger.

Pupils from, and a panel representing, our partnership of 18 state and independent schools - SSLP (Southwark Schools' Learning Partnership) - were also delighted to be joined by Rt Hon David Lammy MP in a conversation around identity and his book ‘Tribes’. And with so much of a sense of togetherness being shared through food and eating together, we were led by local chef and founder of The Curry Community, Parin Lad, in a live Zoom cook along for parents, pupils and staff!

DC IAM also encompasses the importance of the month of February to the LGBTQ+ community. The rainbow flag, a symbol of inclusion and welcome, has been flown from the College Pavilion as we have done for several years in support of LGBTQ+ History Month. During the last week of February, DC IAM We Are placed a particular focus on LGBTQ+ events and celebrated pioneers and heroes through a daily feed of historical and contemporary figures - chosen by staff and pupils – who have made significant contributions to the lives of LGBTQ+ people. The pupil members of the LGBTQ+ Society have organised a drop-in clinic on ‘Identity, Sexuality and Community’, the first in a bi-weekly series where any member of the College can stop by for information and advice. They joined DC Shanghai LGBTQ+ Soc for a webinar on Equality, Transgender Rights and the Law and hosted the poet John Elizabeth Stintzi for a Queer Poetry Reading and workshop in with one of the creative writing groups. Other talks include ‘What’s in a Name: A Brief History of Derogatory Language and Slurs’ and a presentation on ‘Horace Walpole & Gothic Architecture through the lens of Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’ for Gothic Society’. We are delighted that Lord Browne will speak later in the term about Coming out in the Corporate World for the Thinking About Series in collaboration with the SSLP schools.

The true aim, however, of a month like this is in what happens beyond just the month of DC IAM. This has been about inspiring our pupils and staff to continue to both celebrate who they are and also how they contribute to their society and communities. There has been and will be much to reflect on, learn from, and respond to as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. A reminder of the importance of staying connected, being a part of something, and looking after one another is a life lesson that we hope remains with our pupils long beyond DC IAM We Are.

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About Nathalie Whittington

Nathalie Whittington is an English teacher and head of wellbeing at Dulwich College.