Humanities disciplines like the arts, history, languages, and social sciences can help make the consequences of the global climate crisis more accessible and urgent for people, said anthropologist and University of Massachusetts-Boston professor Rosalyn Negrón.
“One of the challenges we face is that climate action is highly politicized,” she said. “The polarization is a complex problem that doesn’t have easy solutions, but there is a place for the humanities because there are ways in which the arts, film, creative writing, music, and other things people share that can be avenues for communicating about these issues and taking them out of the political domain.”
Negrón was one of four panelists Wednesday who virtually visited about 150 students from Milton and other area schools to discuss climate change and climate justice, this year’s theme for the Humanities Workshop. She was joined by David Abel, a documentary filmmaker and environmental journalist for the Boston Globe; Zoe Davis, coordinator of the Climate Resilience Project through the City of Boston; and Kristala Jones Prather P’22 ’26, the Arthur D. Little professor of chemical engineering at MIT. Edward Moreta ’18, a Kenyon College student and poet, moderated the panel.
Yesterday, our nation watched in horror as a violent mob of rioters attacked the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. I know that I am not alone in my feelings of fear, outrage, and sadness over the criminal acts that unfolded as Congress met to carry out its fundamental role in the peaceful transition of presidential leadership. I offer my support as we try to heal individually and as a Milton community.
The attack on the Capitol was an assault on our democracy, fueled by false claims—an interruption of and attempt to invalidate a free and fair election. Rioters carried and wore symbols of hate. These actions are directly opposed to our values as a School: treasuring respect for one another, celebrating differences, and teaching students to be critical thinkers, seekers of truth, and advocates for justice. Yesterday’s mob represented nothing that we wish our students to emulate or even tolerate.
New Math Department Chair LeeAnn Brash joined Milton, along with three other new math teachers, just before the start of this school year. Although it’s been an atypical year, she has spent the fall teaching Honors Calculus and Geometry and getting to know students and fellow faculty members.
How have your first few months at Milton been?
Very good. There are a million things happening with the COVID-19 pandemic that normally wouldn’t be part of the picture, but all things considered, it’s been really great. The Math Department has been incredibly welcoming and supportive, and I’ve had really good support so far from the other department chairs that I’ve met. There are four of us new to the department this year (Brash, Akinade Adeboye, Cory Bhowmik, and Hubert Hwang) and we’re all people of color, which is really cool.
Community Engagement Programs and Partnerships (CEPP) focused on projects aimed at helping others, involving students, staff, and faculty. Although in-person service activities aren’t happening right now, CEPP organizers have found ways to make sure the Milton community can give back. During Hunger Awareness Week in November, for example, student CEPP board members hosted an all-school Zoom session to educate students about food insecurity.
This month, CEPP hosted a gift drive to fulfill the wishes of 50 families supported by the Department of Children and Families, as well as area homeless families through Milton’s partners in the Boston Public Schools. Many student advisory groups together purchased gifts for those in need. In addition, CEPP also collected money for food baskets, which will provide a turkey dinner for 30 families.
Dorm faculty and students are finding creative ways to maintain dorm traditions during this period of remote and hybrid learning. In Goodwin House, they’ve continued to celebrate each student’s birthday. However, instead of singing collectively over Zoom, one student plays a musical instrument rendition of “Happy Birthday” to share. So far, there have been oboe, violin, and beatboxing performances. In the most recent one, English faculty member Elaine Apthorp played her guitar and sang.
Each Goodwin advisory group plans and hosts a virtual event for the rest of the dorm to join. House Head and math faculty member Patrick Owens said his advisory group hosted a Jackbox game called Fibbage. Last week, science faculty member Michael Edgar’s advisory group hosted an “Among Us” tournament (see photo). “Among Us” is an online multiplayer social deduction game.
Owens said care packages were sent to all Goodwin students earlier in October, and in all the houses, a new student mentoring program was launched at the beginning of the school year. Returning students who were interested in serving as mentors applied and were then paired with new students. Mentors and mentees were also placed in the same dorm families who will meet over the course of the year.
A poem isn’t really done until it’s shared and lives in someone else,” said Bingham Visiting Writer Richard Blanco. Sharing his work that centers on ideas of home, identity, and nationality, Blanco read and discussed his poetry with students on a Zoom webinar.
“What is home? This idea grew bigger into what is a country? In my poems, I’m asking these questions for all of us,” said Blanco.
Blanco immigrated to Miami as a child with his Cuban-exile parents and said that when he was growing up he wasn’t sure if he was part of the American story. It wasn’t until he was asked to be the poet for President Obama’s second inauguration that he felt his personal story was part of the American narrative.
Writing about math is an approach used by Milton math teachers to get students to dive deep into the material and then articulate it—beyond just numbers, formulas, and graphs. Earlier this semester, Honors Calculus students researched, calculated, and wrote about the Gini Index, a measure of income distribution across a population, for a country of their choice.
“We wanted to make the study of calculus relevant, and income distribution and income inequality are topics we read about all the time in the news,” said math faculty member Jackie Bonenfant. “This was a way to allow students to explore an important and pressing topic, while also encouraging them to ask questions about their world. What government policies, practices, and laws might impact income distribution? Are we satisfied with current levels of income distribution and, if not, what could we do to change things?”
Students chose countries like the U.S., Italy, Australia, Vietnam, Greece, Brazil, Mexico, and India. Zoe Malouf ’21 researched the 2017 Gini Index for Switzerland.
Many boys in our society are conditioned from a young age to be tough, to hide their emotions, and to avoid any appearance of behaving “like a girl,” documentary filmmaker and anti-sexist activist Byron Hurt told student-athletes recently.
This mindset favors aggression, prevents boys from connecting with their emotions, and undervalues girls and women, sometimes leading to toxic masculinity and violence, said Hurt, who visited Milton athletes virtually as part of a series of speakers this fall who promote mental fitness.
“I grew up in a culture where you had to perform a certain kind of manhood and masculinity in order to be accepted by other guys and be seen as a ‘real man’” said Hurt. When boys and men feel like they can’t be vulnerable with their emotions, those emotions can be redirected in unhealthy ways: abuse, depression, violence, failed relationships, and out-of-control actions.
House heads and faculty are engaging their dorm communities in both synchronous and asynchronous ways as boarding students learn remotely during this phase of hybrid learning. In Robbins House, dorm faculty hold weekly drop-in sessions at various times to accommodate time zones. They are also hosting events such as Zoom Jeopardy! games or Netflix watch parties.
In September, each new student was paired with a returning student in their grade or the grade above. Then these pairs meet others over Zoom to increase their network of support in the dorm community.
“It has gone so well in Robbins that almost all of the mentors and mentees have made it a weekly occurrence to have a get-together and hang out virtually over the weekend,” said house head Nicole Hall.
Milton students in several humanities classes will join those from six other Massachusetts schools in studying climate change and climate justice through the humanities during this year’s Humanities Workshop.
Teachers from the participating schools decided to focus on climate issues because they permeate many different aspects of life, including economic and racial inequality, human migration, and public health.
“There is a sense that climate change is just a science problem, which of course is not the case—it’s a human problem,” said Milton faculty member Alisa Braithwaite. “If our climate dies, so do we. We wanted to bring the concepts of humanities disciplines together to create a narrative that helps people to see that climate change is an urgent, human problem, one that we should be learning about and fighting for from every corner of our world.”