Pittsburgh Teens Look Beyond the Buzzword at Culture Jam

Over 300 high school students from regional parochial, public, and independent area schools descended on The Ellis School’s campus––centrally located at the intersection of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Point Breeze, Homewood, Larimer, and East Liberty neighborhoods––on Friday, November 15 for the School’s 16th annual student-led diversity conference, Culture Jam.
Led by students in Ellis’ Student Diversity League (SDL),  Culture is the largest and longest-running student-led diversity conference in the region. This year’s theme, Beyond the Buzzword, explored common terms found in social justice spaces and dove deeper into their meaning. With the goal of inspiring young people to take action and implement meaningful change in their communities, the conference offered a space for students from diverse lived experiences to have courageous conversations about issues relating to equity, inclusion, diversity, identity, and representation.

“Culture Jam is an opportunity for high school students to learn from and teach each other about social justice issues and core cultural identifiers: race, gender, religion, sexuality, socio-economic status, family structure, and more,” shared Aniya Akhtar, Class of 2020 and Co-president of SDL. “As institutions and individuals strive to finally achieve the ideals of diversity and inclusion, we wanted to ask ourselves and our peers what is the deeper meaning of the goals we are working towards and how do we get there?”

Throughout the day, students celebrated diversity, promoted empathy, and discussed social justice in a variety of student-led workshops. This year’s workshops included:

  • Advocating for Disabilities Rights & The Friendship Circle
  • African Dance
  • Asian American Mental Health
  • Assimilation in PoC: Internalized White Supremacy or Necessity?
  • Being Sikh in America
  • Building Community Through Conversation
  • Coaching Candid Conversations
  • Code Switching
  • Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation
  • Cultural Assimilation in America
  • Dismantling Heteronormativity
  • Disrupting Rape Culture
  • Fast Fashion: Labor & the Environment
  • How The American Healthcare System Is Failing Its Black Women
  • Mixed Feelings: The Multi-Racial Identity and What it Means
  • Never Again: Social Responsibility After the Holocaust
  • The Glamorization of Eating Disorders in the Media
  • The Guide to Getting Dress Coded

Following breakout workshop sessions, Summer Lee, State Representative for the 34th District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, delivered the keynote address where she spoke to students about their ability to impact change. She shared how critical it is for today’s youth to voice their opinions and stand up for what they believe in if they want to make the world a more equitable and safe place now and in the future.

An event that builds the changemakers and problem-solvers of tomorrow, Culture Jam is a place where teenagers from across the region take the lead, recognize the collective strength derived from their individual differences, and work together to shape the world for the better.
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