GRAPHIC BY GRAHAM KREWINGHAUS
Doubt filled every hallway of the high school on Thursday, March 12. Nobody knew that it would be the last day of classes, but everybody felt the uncertainty.
For those preparing for Day of Dialogue, originally slated for April 2, that uncertainty meant pressing pause on something that had been in the works for several months. But when they were able to reconvene, the planners made the necessary adjustments, producing an inventive experience for students to replicate the day at home.
Kate Leslie, co-adviser of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), led an intense discussion among the planning team during the last X-block before the closure.
“All of us sat around thinking about Day of Dialogue and what would happen if we needed to do part of it online,” Leslie said. “At that point, I don’t think we were expecting months out of school, but I think we were aware of the likelihood of being out of school in early April, when Day of Dialogue was planned for.”
Leslie said that the extent of the disruption was hard to predict, but that Latin and Spanish teacher Lennon Audrain, who had been attending GSA meetings, had proposed a possible response. Audrain said he had come up with the idea earlier that day.
“I study technology at Harvard, so I thought our alternative could be to have a Day of Dialogue website, and it’d be great to have in the future anyway,” Audrain said. “I pitched the idea and bought a domain name, and that’s what we ended up using.”
Then, school was shut down, and preparation was put on pause. After students had adjusted to the new situation, discussion started back up again. GSA student leader and senior Mia Canetti said that everyone knew plans had to change, so additions were made to the website Audrain had created.
“We knew that even if we were able to go back to school on May 4th, which seemed unlikely, we wouldn’t be able to get as much auditorium time, since that’s hard to come by in May,” Canetti said. “We knew the field trips and large assemblies were all already canceled, so we made the website a place for everyone to be able to watch Telling Our Stories as well as having lesson plans and resources there.”
Junior Amber Mickelson, who spoke at Telling Our Stories and put together much of the website, said that after talking it over, the team settled on turning the website into a home base for the whole experience, which included links to many external resources.
“At first, we were planning to have a day of Zoom calls, but then someone brought up that I had designed a website before, and I said I could do it this year,” Mickelson said. “We decided to try and compile everything into the website that Lennon [Audrain] had started making. I probably started working on that two weeks ago, so it was pretty rushed.”
Mickelson said that finding resources to put on the website was just as much work as creating and designing the website itself.
“We started brainstorming topics that we wanted to cover on the website, and we had allyship, history and people, and we decided to add resources so that anyone who’s LGBTQ and at home right now can get the help they need,” Mickelson said. “After that, we scoured the internet for good links to help people learn more about those topics. We wanted to use the internet as a resource to add things that we wouldn’t necessarily learn in school. Once we started working on the actual website, it was super easy to put it all together.”
According to Leslie, having such a singular focus on finding resources meant more teamwork than normal years, and working completely online allowed more people to get involved.
“On any given day we’d have 12 different people on the doc, all building this thing together,” Leslie said. “In past years, when you’re creating lessons, it’s rarely so communal. You’re working with one or two other people. It was way more of a team effort than it’s ever been, and I think a lot more people feel some sense of ownership over the final product than would’ve been possible otherwise.”
One of the many decisions that went into the end result was whether to do Telling Our Stories as a livestream, or as individual videos linked on the website. The team decided on the latter, and one of the speakers, junior Esme DiStefano-Forti found that it was an improvement over past years.
“With a livestream, people might end up just leaving. But with these videos, students that just want to see certain videos could do that,” DiStefano-Forti said. “I had friends who only knew a couple people and they wanted to watch those videos specifically. And they didn’t have to watch all the videos just for the one they wanted.”
However, this was not the preference of many Telling Our Stories speakers. According to Leslie, there were originally 18 speakers lined up, but that list shrank to seven. Some were concerned about their story living online, and others worried about recording in their homes.
“There were all these different concerns,” Leslie said. “So that was a hard decision to still go ahead knowing that most of our speakers are actually uncomfortable with this format.”
Junior Eve Jones recorded her story for the website and said that she did so despite her concerns.
“I’m not afraid of public speaking, and I was not worried at all before school was cancelled,” Jones said. “I was a bit more afraid to record mine because I like being able to see people’s reactions, and I prefer it to be one moment, and done, and people think what they think. So it’s a little nerve wracking that, even now, someone could be watching it and I don’t know.”
According to several speakers, the editing process for their speech changed after school closed. Both Leslie and her co-adviser, Julia Mangan, said that the students were able to take charge in terms of revising and practicing, and that the co-advisers could step back more than most years.
“It was much more on the students to decide if and how they wanted to edit,” Mangan said. “Many students decided to just do it all in one take and practiced a few times; a couple students sent us two different copies, two different speech videos and then asked for feedback about which one we liked better; and some just did everything.”
Leslie said that part of why the co-advisers stepped back this year was because expectations for the day had changed so much. In the end, she said, it felt good just to see the day come together.
“The target absolutely changed this year, and it became just pulling something off, which, in a weird way, was freeing,” Leslie said. “I think because I’ve been doing Day of Dialogue for ten years now, I’ve set this idea of perfection, which creates all this stress for myself because every year, it has to somehow be better, or at least hit the same bar. But this year just exploded that bar, because now we had to put something together in the middle of the pandemic.”
Mickelson said that having put the day together completely online, while not something she hopes to repeat, will impact some aspects of future Days of Dialogue.
“I feel like a lot more future plans will be put online for classes to access, rather than sent to a teacher and printed out. It gives students a level of independence in terms of what they want to learn,” Mickelson said. “I like the idea of kids in a classroom being able to take out their computers and learn about the things they want to, but not necessarily the same things as their peers. That independence shapes everyone’s learning and beliefs about the LGBTQ experience.”
One important benefit to the Day of Dialogue’s website is its permanence as a resource for future years. Several members of the planning team, including Audrain, said that the website will serve as markers for the future.
“What’s going to be cool about this is that this is something that can be built on in years to come, and it can act as a sort of archive of past Days of Dialogue,” Audrain said. “I think the Day of Dialogue site will be such a good artifact and archive of past student voices that when we come back and watch it in 10 years, it’ll show us how much the experiences of LGBTQ students have changed.”