Custom Class: post-landing-hero

By Layla Hijjawi, Class of 2023

For summer reading, Upper School history teacher Dr. Dan Jones had his 36 sophomores in Advanced Topics (AT) European History tackle Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages by Dr. David Nirenberg, a University of Chicago history professor and Divinity School dean. Dan described the book as a “genuine academic text, like you’d read in grad school.” It was a challenge, Dan said, but the sophomores “took it head on and did their very best.” Coincidentally, a parent of one of Dan’s students has a distant connection to Professor Nirenberg and helped Dan arrange a student Zoom with the author. The rich, candid conversation that ensued September 15 covered everything from how the professor became a historian to how his book relates to the social justice issues of today. We asked sophomore Layla Hijjawi to share her reaction to this Q&A—a rare opportunity and a silver lining of hybrid and remote learning during a pandemic.


Summer homework isn’t usually something that most students especially look forward to. Furthermore, Professor David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence, the book chosen by Dr. Jones for the tenth grade AT European History summer homework, is no easy read.

The book consists of 328 pages of intense historical analysis of medieval violence and why that violence might have occurred. Professor Nirenberg primarily focuses on studying the specific context of each moment of violence to understand how the conditions that allow such horrific events to occur come to be. 

While the book itself was academically brilliant, many students, myself included, found themselves wondering what it all meant for us...Luckily, Professor Nirenberg was able to shed some light on this matter.

While the book itself was academically brilliant, many students, myself included, found themselves wondering what it all meant for us. Medieval conflicts don’t necessarily define the lives of the average teenager in 2020. Instead, we exist in a continuous flow of fleeting stories on the news about issues centering around the pandemic, elections, and the occasional rumor of TikTok being shut down by the president. Most significantly, issues surrounding race, or more fittingly racism, have risen to people’s attention recently, particularly surrounding things like the Black Lives Matter movement. These other issues that dominate our media and lives made it difficult to understand why learning about seemingly prehistoric conflicts could be relevant in a world where something entirely new happened every day.

Luckily, Professor Nirenberg was able to shed some light on this matter. One silver lining of distance learning is the opportunity technology can provide for virtual teaching. Dr. Jones was able to put this opportunity to use and managed to organize a Q&A session between the students in his class and Professor Nirenberg, the very author we had read this summer. Now, when I imagined the person behind the pages and pages of my summer homework, I certainly didn’t think of the most friendly-looking or relatable man, and I somewhat assumed the Q&A would be dull. But upon entering the Zoom call, I was proven wrong. Professor Nirenberg was both receptive and down to earth, beginning our discussion with the bold claim that “being a historian sucks in a very profound way.” His explanation: “It takes a huge amount of work and thought to make the past relevant to the present in any way you can actually put to work…So that’s really hard: balancing, on the one hand, the feeling you have that something vital connects the past and the present, and the obligation to treat as complicated that connection and to honor the many, many differences and the many discontinuities.” 

Students wondered how his studies could connect to issues we face today, like racism, if at all. For Professor Nirenberg, his studies of religious violence are deeply intertwined, and perhaps inseparable, from studies of race.

After warming up the group, he then proceeded to address our questions. Many students wondered how his studies could connect to issues we face today, like racism, if at all. For Professor Nirenberg, his studies of religious violence are deeply intertwined, and perhaps inseparable, from studies of race. Racism is “not [about] our worst ideas but our highest ideals that produce these terrible things,” he told us, and many of these ideals stem from religious roots and scripture. He provided several examples of how ideals from all religions can be manipulated for racist purposes. Thus, the issues of today cannot just be issues of today. For us to truly understand what is wrong with our present, we must understand the fallibility of the past and how modern problems span generations, including back to the medieval times the professor focuses on. 

The intersectionality of current events and Professor Nirenberg’s work sheds some light on what is an increasingly dark issue. It is certainly easy to feel helpless and confused in a world where so much violence happens with seemingly no explanation. After all, how are we meant to fix a problem when it’s unclear why it’s happening in the first place? But with the professor’s advice in mind, I believe that many of us left that Zoom lecture with a fresh perspective on how we might begin solving some of the problems we face in our lives. How we apply the knowledge we have gained will be up to us, but Professor Nirenberg has given us the spark that may ignite our move towards change for the better.


Top: In a screen shot from the end of their Zoom Q&A session, sophomores (including article writer Layla Hijjawi, third row, first column) give the wonderful Professor Nirenberg (first row, third column) a round of applause.

student voices

Nirenberg and New Ideas: A History Class Zoom Q&A with the Author of Our Summer Reading

By Layla Hijjawi, Class of 2023

For summer reading, Upper School history teacher Dr. Dan Jones had his 36 sophomores in Advanced Topics (AT) European History tackle Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages by Dr. David Nirenberg, a University of Chicago history professor and Divinity School dean. Dan described the book as a “genuine academic text, like you’d read in grad school.” It was a challenge, Dan said, but the sophomores “took it head on and did their very best.” Coincidentally, a parent of one of Dan’s students has a distant connection to Professor Nirenberg and helped Dan arrange a student Zoom with the author. The rich, candid conversation that ensued September 15 covered everything from how the professor became a historian to how his book relates to the social justice issues of today. We asked sophomore Layla Hijjawi to share her reaction to this Q&A—a rare opportunity and a silver lining of hybrid and remote learning during a pandemic.


Summer homework isn’t usually something that most students especially look forward to. Furthermore, Professor David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence, the book chosen by Dr. Jones for the tenth grade AT European History summer homework, is no easy read.

The book consists of 328 pages of intense historical analysis of medieval violence and why that violence might have occurred. Professor Nirenberg primarily focuses on studying the specific context of each moment of violence to understand how the conditions that allow such horrific events to occur come to be. 

While the book itself was academically brilliant, many students, myself included, found themselves wondering what it all meant for us...Luckily, Professor Nirenberg was able to shed some light on this matter.

While the book itself was academically brilliant, many students, myself included, found themselves wondering what it all meant for us. Medieval conflicts don’t necessarily define the lives of the average teenager in 2020. Instead, we exist in a continuous flow of fleeting stories on the news about issues centering around the pandemic, elections, and the occasional rumor of TikTok being shut down by the president. Most significantly, issues surrounding race, or more fittingly racism, have risen to people’s attention recently, particularly surrounding things like the Black Lives Matter movement. These other issues that dominate our media and lives made it difficult to understand why learning about seemingly prehistoric conflicts could be relevant in a world where something entirely new happened every day.

Luckily, Professor Nirenberg was able to shed some light on this matter. One silver lining of distance learning is the opportunity technology can provide for virtual teaching. Dr. Jones was able to put this opportunity to use and managed to organize a Q&A session between the students in his class and Professor Nirenberg, the very author we had read this summer. Now, when I imagined the person behind the pages and pages of my summer homework, I certainly didn’t think of the most friendly-looking or relatable man, and I somewhat assumed the Q&A would be dull. But upon entering the Zoom call, I was proven wrong. Professor Nirenberg was both receptive and down to earth, beginning our discussion with the bold claim that “being a historian sucks in a very profound way.” His explanation: “It takes a huge amount of work and thought to make the past relevant to the present in any way you can actually put to work…So that’s really hard: balancing, on the one hand, the feeling you have that something vital connects the past and the present, and the obligation to treat as complicated that connection and to honor the many, many differences and the many discontinuities.” 

Students wondered how his studies could connect to issues we face today, like racism, if at all. For Professor Nirenberg, his studies of religious violence are deeply intertwined, and perhaps inseparable, from studies of race.

After warming up the group, he then proceeded to address our questions. Many students wondered how his studies could connect to issues we face today, like racism, if at all. For Professor Nirenberg, his studies of religious violence are deeply intertwined, and perhaps inseparable, from studies of race. Racism is “not [about] our worst ideas but our highest ideals that produce these terrible things,” he told us, and many of these ideals stem from religious roots and scripture. He provided several examples of how ideals from all religions can be manipulated for racist purposes. Thus, the issues of today cannot just be issues of today. For us to truly understand what is wrong with our present, we must understand the fallibility of the past and how modern problems span generations, including back to the medieval times the professor focuses on. 

The intersectionality of current events and Professor Nirenberg’s work sheds some light on what is an increasingly dark issue. It is certainly easy to feel helpless and confused in a world where so much violence happens with seemingly no explanation. After all, how are we meant to fix a problem when it’s unclear why it’s happening in the first place? But with the professor’s advice in mind, I believe that many of us left that Zoom lecture with a fresh perspective on how we might begin solving some of the problems we face in our lives. How we apply the knowledge we have gained will be up to us, but Professor Nirenberg has given us the spark that may ignite our move towards change for the better.


Top: In a screen shot from the end of their Zoom Q&A session, sophomores (including article writer Layla Hijjawi, third row, first column) give the wonderful Professor Nirenberg (first row, third column) a round of applause.

student voices

Explore More Ethical Education Stories

Banner featuring Chandani Patel, Director of Equity and Inclusion

Following a four-month national search, Rowland Hall is excited to announce that Dr. Chandani Patel will take the reins on July 1 as our first director of equity and inclusion.

Chandani (pronounced ChAHn-dhuh-nee) has spent the last 10 years advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives across a number of institutions. For the past 18 months, she has served as the director for global diversity education for New York University (NYU), where she provides strategic direction and works with faculty on curriculum and instruction that is centered in DEI. Before that, she was senior assistant director at Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, where she developed pedagogical workshops and online resources to support instructors in creating inclusive classroom spaces. 

Chandani Patel with husband Brady and daughter Aashna.

  Chandani Patel with husband Brady and daughter Aashna.

“I believe deeply in relationship building across a community,” Chandani said. “I look forward to being part of a community where all voices are represented so that we can work towards building an inclusive teaching and learning environment for all students, faculty, staff, and families.”

Chandani has taught and written extensively on how concepts of race, identity, and belonging shift across places, languages, and cultures. She holds a PhD from the University of Chicago, where she studied comparative literature with a focus on South Asian and African literatures. She also holds a BA in comparative literature and an MA in humanities and social thought, both from NYU.

Our search for a director of equity and inclusion began in mid-November, following the announcement of a $2.4 million donation from the Cumming Family Foundation to create the first endowed position in school history. Former head of school Alan Sparrow, who retired last June, worked closely with the Cumming family to articulate our DEI vision and secure the gift, which ensures we have a permanent, full-time leader to guide us in this important work. At a time when pivotal conversations about racial justice are occurring across the nation, we’re so grateful to the Cummings for their generosity and leadership. Their gift supports our core value of welcoming everyone, elevates our institutional commitment to DEI, and sets a precedent for schools in Utah and beyond.

Rowland Hall is forever grateful for the Cumming Family Foundation's $2.4 million gift to create the school's first endowed role, ensuring we have a permanent leader to guide us in this important work.

To ensure an effective search, Rowland Hall partnered with StratéGenius, a Berkeley-based firm with extensive experience cultivating, recruiting, and placing educators in DEI leadership positions at independent schools. Indeed, the process moved along efficiently and transparently: by the first week of March, school community members had a chance to virtually chat with and provide feedback on three finalists. According to our search committee—co-chaired by Head of School Mick Gee and Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman—Chandani rose to the top for our community due to her expertise, professionalism, sincere approachability, and willingness to dig deep in this important role. 

“The search committee was drawn to Chandani’s focus on building communities of belonging where members feel safe to learn and grow together,” Mick said. Chandani, in turn, said she’s excited to discover areas of growth within Rowland Hall where she can center equity in conversations and support inclusive dialogue.

Chandani will relocate to Salt Lake City this summer with husband Brady Smith, daughter Aashna (age 4), and dog Maddy. Chandani’s parents, Vaishali and Sanjay, will also be relocating to the area. Please join us in welcoming Chandani and her family to Rowland Hall!

Equity & Inclusion

Lisa Brown Miranda greets Lincoln Street Campus students on the first day of school in August.

Enrolling in a new school can be scary. Enrolling in a new school during a pandemic can kick those nerves up a notch. For new Rowland Hall sixth grader Sofia Drakou, one smiling staffer not only assuaged her fears, but left her feeling like she was flying—a familiar sensation for this young ballerina.

Before an August Zoom meeting with Rowland Hall Associate Director of Admission Lisa Brown Miranda, Sofia didn’t know what to expect from her new school. But as the two discussed everything from classes to teachers to balancing extracurriculars (Sofia has an increasingly demanding schedule with Ballet West Academy), Lisa put the rising sixth grader at ease: “As soon as she started talking to me, she won my heart with her enthusiasm and genuine interest in my feelings, expectations, and worries,” Sofia said of Lisa. 

“Lisa encouraged me and showed me that in her, I had found a reliable, empathetic, and kind person, and a valuable advisor to reach out if I needed to. This was, and still is, very important to me, and I will always be thankful for her presence in my life,” Sofia explained. “After our meeting, I felt like I was flying, and I couldn’t wait to come to Rowland Hall because she made me feel like I was welcomed before I even started school!”

I wanted to make sure that the books included inspiring people of color who mirror Ms. Miranda’s empowering personality and the diversity of our amazing school community.—Sixth grader Sofia Drakou

That pivotal meeting left Sofia eager to reciprocate Lisa’s kindness. To express her gratitude, the sixth grader and her brother—eleventh grader George—picked, purchased, and donated 10 children’s books related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) to the McCarthey Campus library in honor of Lisa, who is Black and has been a champion of JEDI values at the school since her 2014 hiring. Indeed, Lisa is a dedicated member of the faculty/staff JEDI Committee and she and daughter Gabriella, a freshman, participated as panelists during that committee’s November 17 Amplifying Black Voices virtual evening of dialogue. Lisa also currently serves on the search committee for the school’s newly endowed director of equity and inclusion position. Beyond her JEDI-related services to the school, Lisa is simply a warm, caring ambassador for Rowland Hall. As she jets around the Lincoln Street Campus, she’s often seen greeting people by name and building them up in passing encounters, offering her colleagues effusive thanks for collaborating on past projects or, for students, asking how a test or weekend athletics competition went and praising their evolving talents and efforts.

Siblings George and Sofia hold up four books that they donated in Lisa Brown Miranda's honor.

Sibling students George and Sofia with four of the books they donated in Lisa Brown Miranda's honor.

“I wanted to make sure that the books included inspiring people of color who mirror Ms. Miranda’s empowering personality and the diversity of our amazing school community,” Sofia explained, “so young students at Rowland Hall can read about people and characters they can connect with, and be inspired by them.” The sixth grader hopes the books—which she and her brother donated on February 9—raise awareness of JEDI values at Rowland Hall, and help the school and its young students celebrate Black History Month.

My heart is bursting. Your gift will allow so many of our youngest learners to see themselves joyfully represented and will elicit pride in themselves and their families.—Associate Director of Admission Lisa Brown Miranda

Lisa said the donation left her overcome with joy. “I am proud of you always, always, but today my heart is bursting,” Lisa wrote to Sofia and George. “Your gift will allow so many of our youngest learners to see themselves joyfully represented and will elicit pride in themselves and their families. Other students will have the opportunity to learn about what makes their classmates special and beautiful in their own way. What a glorious gift!”  

As for Rowland Hall newbie Sofia, she’s off to a fantastic start and is even following in Lisa’s footsteps: she'll join six of her Middle School classmates to serve on Rowland Hall’s delegation at the Northwest Association of Independent Schools virtual Student Diversity Leadership Retreat March 1–2.

Rowland Hall thanks Sofia, George, and their parents for these wonderful additions to the McCarthey Campus library: 

  • Equality's Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America, by author Deborah Diesen and illustrator Magdalena Mora
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, by author Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Last Stop on Market Street, by author Matt de la Peña and illustrator Christian Robinson
  • My Little Golden Book About Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by author Shana Corey and illustrator Margeaux Lucas
  • The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read, by author Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrator Oge Mora
  • The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne, by author Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrator John Parra
  • Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World, by author Susan Hood and illustrators Sophie Blackall, Emily Winfield Martin, Shadra Strickland, Melissa Sweet, LeUyen Pham, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Lisa Brown, Selina Alko, Hadley Hooper, Isabel Roxas, Erin Robinson, and Sara Palacios
  • Sometimes People March, by author and illustrator Tessa Allen
  • Thank You, Omu, by author and illustrator Oge Mora
  • We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by author Traci Sorell and illustrator Frane Lessac

Community

PrinciPALS Jij de Jesus and Emma Wellman on Rowland Hall's McCarthey Campus

Rowland Hall is pleased to announce that “How to Talk to Kids about Race,” the third episode of the school’s princiPALS podcast, won silver for a single podcast episode in the 2020 InspirED Brilliance Awards. This is Rowland Hall’s fifth Brilliance Award since 2017.

2020 InspirED Brilliance Award Winner badge


The InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Awards is the only international competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications exclusively. Entries, divided into 30 categories, were judged by a volunteer panel of 69 marketing experts from around the world who are professionals in private schools or businesses that specialize in school marketing, and were scored on creativity, persuasiveness, design, copy, photography, and overall appeal. The judges chose “How to Talk to Kids about Race” for the timeliness of the subject, the strong advice presented to listeners, and the overall branding.

"The topic is timely and I appreciated hearing about the research and action items to take,” said one judge. Another commented, “Really smart advice, well-presented.”

PrinciPALS launched in October 2019 as a resource for parents and caregivers navigating common questions and concerns about the preschool and elementary school years. The podcast features Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus, and is hosted by alumnus Conor Bentley ’01. All episodes of princiPALS are available on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.

Podcast

Two Rowland Hall Middle School students work on an assignment.

After four months of work—including meeting with Black alums and current students—alums Ikwo Frank ’13, Julia Bodson ’12, and Shelby Matsumura ’13 emailed Rowland Hall leaders a Black Lives Matter call-to-action letter last month and invite anyone who supports their cause to add their name.

We believe that Rowland Hall must move beyond words of solidarity and take actions that promote antiracism and diversity in our school community.Call-to-Action Letter

In their October 26 email to Head of School Mick Gee, Board Chair Christopher Von Maack ’97, and Inclusion, Equity, and Outreach Committee Chair Bing Fang, the alum trio wrote that the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor motivated them to craft the call to action. The letter, in turn, implores their alma mater to “move beyond words of solidarity and take actions that promote antiracism and diversity in our school community.”

In addition to meeting with current and former students to write the document, Ikwo, Julia, and Shelby collaborated with members of the greater community—including Pastor Robert Merrills of Murray Baptist Church, who helped them “deliver concrete and attainable goals for making Rowland Hall an antiracist institution.” Indeed, the powerful two-page letter contains 16 bulleted suggestions divided into four categories: improving the representation of Black people and people of color within the school community; integrating antiracism learning into curriculum and diversifying library and classroom materials; giving back to the local and national Black communities; and staying accountable in tackling these issues.

“We hope this letter is received with an open, critical, and forward-thinking mind,” the trio wrote in their introductory email. “Compared to other educational institutions in Utah, Rowland Hall offers an inclusive, diverse, and progressive education. We are grateful to have learned in such an environment; it's why we think Rowland Hall will be receptive to this cause. We can do better, together.”

Rowland Hall is incredibly thankful for Ikwo, Julia, and Shelby’s efforts. We’re committed to becoming an antiracist organization and we’ll use their suggestions to develop a comprehensive plan for improving racial equity. We’ll release that plan by summer, as requested. One pivotal action we plan to accomplish by then: hiring a new director of equity and inclusion, an endowed position Mick announced on November 16.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been school priorities for the past decade, but this alum-written letter plays a meaningful role in propelling Rowland Hall forward and focusing and formalizing our efforts. Ikwo, Julia, and Shelby have asked us to share the letter, so on their behalf: if you concur, please add your name.

Sign the Letter

alumni

You Belong at Rowland Hall