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Social Justice Hackathon Inspires Solutions to Foster Belonging, Inclusion in Independent Schools

Three St. Andrew’s students who conceptualized, designed, and pitched solutions to support students identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) at independent schools were awarded grants to turn their ideas into reality during HackBAC, an online social justice hackathon organized by the Black Alumni Collective.
Miles Hayter ‘24 was a member of the first-place team, which proposed SafeZone, an online well-being hub for BIPOC students. In addition to an anonymous chat function that connects students with BIPOC peers as well as counselors and mentors, the online hub would offer tools such as calming music and guided meditations curated for students. To fund the endeavor, students proposed collaborating with BIPOC artists and auctioning NFTs of their work.

His team, which included students from Colegio Merici (Mexico City, Mexico), Jesuit High School (Portland, Ore.), and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School (Austin, Texas) will receive a $2,500 grant to launch SafeZone. The team was mentored by Humanities Teacher Drew Singleton ‘14.

“I literally wrote, ‘This is why I do what I do,’ when I was listening to you,” panelist Rick Dugan, Head of School at Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Jersey, said of the pitch. “The website that you have designed for People of Color to communicate safely with its focus on well-being moved us deeply. Please know that when you truly build this, folks will benefit, and you will create a safe space for us all.”

Tinuke Alarapon ‘22 and Kieran Lamb ‘22 were members of the third-place team, which proposed the Independent School Student Union, a national student-led organization that would support BIPOC student leaders as they advocate for systemic change at their schools. The ISSU would be structured with regional boards and school-based chapters, and provide individual students the opportunity to attend conferences like the Student Diversity Leadership Conference if their school is unable to cover their travel or lodging expenses.

Their team, which included students from Colegio Merici, St. Stephen’s, and Stuart Hall School (Staunton, Va.), will receive a $750 grant to launch the ISSU. The team was mentored by Chavonne Primus, Director of Client Services & Operations for The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning.

“As I think about being an SDLC faculty member and knowing what students are looking for when they return to their schools, [they're] looking for that continued support and that space to continue to do that work and to have those allies,” said panelist Rohan Arjun, Director of Enrollment Management and Financial Aid at Friends Select School in Philadelphia. “Because of the work you all have done, this is certainly a need.”

HackBAC is organized annually by the Black Alumni Collective (BAC), an advocacy group formed by five Black St. Andrew’s alumni. The theme of this year’s HackBAC was “Creating More Racially Integrated and Equitable Experiences in Independent Schools that Promote Safety, Trust, Wellness, and Belonging.” 
During the three-day weekend competition, from January 14 to January 16, 40 students from across North America were organized into eight teams. Each team was assigned a track - Systemic Inclusion, Belonging and Trust, Well-Being, and Action - and was led by a mentor, who served as a facilitator and guided each group through the ideation process. 

Each day of the hackathon began with a keynote address. Speakers included Dr. Liza Talusan, a scholar and practitioner in equity and inclusion; Dr. Rodney Glasgow, Head of School at Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Spring, Md.; and Ryan Harrison, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at Delaware Valley Friends School in Paoli, Penn.

On the third day, students pitched their ideas to an esteemed panel of judges, who awarded monetary prizes intended to further develop and advance the winning solutions. Panelists included Arjun, Dugan, and Harrison, as well as Trina Gary, Founder and Executive Director of Independent Trust, a network that connects and engages independent school alumni of color.

Formed during the summer of 2020, the Black Alumni Collective endeavors to enrich the experience of Black students and alumni of the St. Andrew’s community through fellowship, advocacy, and mentorship. HackBAC is organized in partnership with St. Andrew’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging, the D!Lab, and The Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private, coeducational college preparatory day school for students in preschool (Age 2) through grade 12, located in Potomac, Maryland.