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Over 400 high school students gathered at The Ellis School on Friday, November 17, 2017 for Culture Jam, an annual student-led and produced conference focused on diversity. Designed to empower students to have courageous conversations, Culture Jam offers a safe, inclusive space for high school students to discuss equity-related issues that are present in schools, the Pittsburgh region, and the global community.

The theme of 2017’s conference, Building Bridges, was chosen by members of Ellis’ Student Diversity League to inspire young people from different backgrounds to share their experiences outside the borders of their own community.

Student Diversity League co-presidents, Pei Pei Barth-Wu, Class of 2018, and Ashley Priore, Class of 2018, worked alongside a student steering committee, 53 student workshop leaders, and local community organizations: 1Hood Media, Dreams of Hope and the Homeless Children’s Education Fund to organize the powerful, productive and positive event.

Students at the Culture Jam

Students from three states, local youth groups, charter,  parochial, public, and independent schools attended this year’s conference, including: Barack Obama Academy of International Studies, Brashear High School, CAPA, City Charter High School, Holy Family Academy, The Kiski School, The Laurel School, The Neighborhood Academy, North Allegheny High School, Oakland Catholic, Penn Hills High School, Pittsburgh Milliones University Preparatory School, Propel, Sewickley Academy, Shady Side Academy, Shaler High School, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Taylor Allderdice High School, Westinghouse Academy, Winchester Thurston School, and Woodland Hills Junior Senior High School.

Megumi Kivuva, Ellis class of 2018, Introducing Liana Maneese at Culture Jam

Local activist and entrepreneur Liana Maneese, co-founder and CEO of The Good Peoples Group, delivered a keynote speech on the importance of building emotional resilience and how to recognize and handle unhealthy conversations in today’s world. To a packed auditorium, she described how coded language influences power dynamics and discussions, and offered tips to students on how to state their opinions, set boundaries, and exit conversations safely and maturely.

As over the past fourteen years, Culture Jam’s workshops are a highlight of the event. This year students from Ellis, as well as students invited from other schools, led workshops addressing topics that include racism, gender and sexual orientation, body image, and social justice issues. Culture Jam 2017 included the following workshops:

  • African Cultural and Tradition Talk
  • African Cultural Dance Showcase: The Reasons Why We Dance
  • Conscious Caring Curriculum
  • Debunking Immigration Myths-Political and Personal
  • Diversity in Young Adult Books
  • Family Diversi-“tree”
  • For My Fellow Sistas: A Black Woman’s Experience
  • Gender & Consent
  • Got Privilege?
  • How Social Media Influences Body-Image
  • How Sports are Failing our Women
  • LGBTQ+ in the Media
  • Love is a Terrible Thing to Hate
  • Making America GAY Again
  • Self-Defense through Situational Awareness
  • Stereotypes in the Media
  • Taking a STEP in the Right Direction
  • The Media: Taking it to the Extreme
  • What Am I? Should it Even Matter?
  • Womb to Tomb: The Demonized Life of the Everyday Black Woman
  • Youth Leading Change: Young Black Motivated Kings and Queens

    Liana Maneese speaks to high school students at Culture Jam on November 17

Reflecting on this year’s Culture Jam, Pei Pei says, “Culture Jam gives students a platform to share their perspectives and ideas, and pushes us to think differently while keeping an open mind. We will be active citizens exercising our right to vote very soon, and it’s important to understand the way institutions and systems of oppression impact the world around us, especially beyond our own experiences.”

The Ellis School is Pittsburgh’s only independent school for girls, educating students from pre-k through grade 12. The Ellis community pursues, supports, and embraces diversity of all kinds, recognizing the collective strength derived from individual differences. Ellis is committed to diversity and inclusion in areas such as race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economics, ability, religion, and age.The academically rigorous, urban, college-preparatory school serves a diverse student population from a broad range of socio-economic circumstances. To learn more about how an Ellis School education maximizes girls’ intellectual, physical, emotional, and social growth, visit The Ellis School or call 412-661-5992.