Class of 2019 visits National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

While April 2 was a day of standardized testing for most McNicholas students, the seniors, along with their homeroom teachers and other staff members, spent the morning exploring the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the banks of the Ohio River.

Senior Myles Bailey mentioned that Saint Thomas More alumni in McNick’s Class of 2019 went on a similar field trip to the Freedom Center in 8th grade.  Others reported going with friends or family in the past, but most students experienced the museum for the first time on April 2 with their classmates.

According to their website, “The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum of conscience, an education center, a convener of dialogue, and a beacon of light for inclusive freedom around the globe.”  Their mission includes passing on stories of traditional slavery and the fight for freedom of the pre-Civil War era while also forcing people to recognize what modern-day slavery looks like and work towards true freedom for all.

Emily Materna, Director of Educational Technology and a chaperone on the field trip said, “I appreciated the inclusion of the modern-day slavery… it is important. I used to teach 8th grade history [and] the story of slavery is interwoven throughout our history.”

The day began with a lecture on implicit bias called “Open Your Mind” given by exhibit manager Ryan Wynett.  Following “Open Your Mind,” students and chaperones split into smaller groups and were led through the museum by volunteer docents who give their time to pass on their knowledge of the Freedom Center’s exhibits to visitors.  Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, excerpts from stories of formerly enslaved people and their families, statistics on present-day slavery, short videos, and even a former “slave pen” were available for students to learn from and reflect on.

During Wynett’s lecture, he talked about how those with darker skin can find themselves struggling with automatic soap dispensers that operate with light sensors.  Lighter skin is easier for the laser to bounce off whereas darker skin is more likely to absorb the light and not register with the dispenser.  “I never realized how people of darker skin tones could struggle with something so simple.  I never really even thought about how the technology behind it and how complexions can affect the way it works,” senior Kate Murray said.

On Wynett’s “Open Your Mind” session, senior Ben Bryll said, “His comedy seemed abrasive to me.  He had good intent but did not speak to the audience in a way that was effective in my opinion.  I had taken psychology so I already knew about implicit bias.  His overall message and solution were good, and I liked how he said we can’t change that we have implicit bias but when we are aware of it, we can change the way we act.”

During the bus ride back to McNicholas following the trip, Director of Campus Ministry Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth expressed an appreciation for the Freedom Center and the resources that they offer as well as the events they host.  Hutchinson-Smyth said, “It flies under the radar… it’s crazy the number of things that happen there.”

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