Revolutionary, Abundant, Raw: An interview with InIt Alums turned Junior Advisors
The InIt Class of 2019 kicks off this weekend with Immersion Weekend! InIt is a nine-month program that provides social justice education and leadership skills training for high school students in the Greater Boston Area. Immersion Weekend, held at Camp Winadu in Pittsfield, MA, is an opportunity for new InIt delegates to get to know one another, build a social justice knowledge base, and explore how identity impacts their lives and their communities.
Each year, a group of volunteer advisors and junior advisors help set the stage for the students’ InIt experiences. They facilitate workshops and discussion groups, supervise delegate free time, and mentor the incoming class. This year, a record number of InIt graduates are returning as junior advisors. Kavita Sundaram ’16 served as a junior advisor last year and will be joined by Arianna Ramos ’16 and Dulah Mahmoud ’17, also a high school senior.
As they prepare for the upcoming weekend, we spoke with Kavita, Arianna, and Dulah about their InIt experiences and why they are excited to continue as volunteers:
Q: Tell us about your InIt experience! When did you graduate, and from what school? What was your Community Action Project?
KAVITA: I graduated from InIt in the spring of 2016, my senior year at the Cambridge School of Weston (CSW). For our community action project, my delegation chose to examine classism and how it intersects with other systems of oppression. Our CAP had two main parts – one school-wide assembly, at which we focused on educating our community on the realities of classism as well as the income and wealth gaps in this country, and one optional and open debrief conversation, at which we facilitated a discussion for students and faculty on how they saw classism showing up at our school. CSW is a private institution, and as such our project was in direct response to the lack of conversation around class stratification in our community.
ARIANNA: I graduated from InIt in 2016, and from Boston Collegiate Charter School in 2017. My community action project was a gender workshop with a photo gallery representing the visual definition of gender and what it means to the photographer. My experience with InIt was and continues to be a long dive into a deep pool of self-discovery. Their work is challenging to teach because the material is still fresh and tough, and they care too much to sugar coat the struggle. It is a progressive experience altogether because there is always a better change to make, and they are conscious of that.
DULAH: I graduated InIt class of 2017. I go to Excel Academy Charter High School and will graduate in 2019. My community action project was educating my student body on the immigration process in the US.
Q: Use one word to describe Immersion Weekend.
ARIANNA: Abundant. There is so much to appreciate about the immersion experience and so many personalities to get to know. I got lost in the experience and left with so much more than I came with.
KAVITA: Raw. And while that word could easily describe the conversations we had, with our prioritization of honesty and real talk, I use it now to specifically describe how I felt in that space. It was my first experience in practicing vulnerability for longer than a moment in time. To me, ‘raw’ demonstrates that this vulnerability was difficult and at times even painful, but that I left feeling like I was finally getting all this stuff out, ready to be filled back up again by myself and my InIt community.
Q: What drew you back to InIt as a junior advisor?
ARIANNA: I loved my time as a delegate and it was because of the facilitators that I was able to enjoy my time even under the intensity of those first few days of the program. A lot of that had to do with the help of the facilitators and advisors and the way they carried us. They kept their hearts open no matter what they heard. They were an inspiration.
DULAH: What brought me back is the fact that InIt changed my life and it was all with the support of the volunteers and advisors. If I can help other students my age have their eyes open like I did, then it’d make me the happiest I’ve ever been.
KAVITA: This is my second year on the volunteer team, and I think initially I just wanted to be part of the InIt community again because I was struggling to find justice-centered spaces in college that I vibed with. As I was making the decision to return this year, I realized that really all I’m here for now is the young people. As a delegate, InIt was the first place in which I found a community of older folks and adults that I felt I could really trust. InIt delegates are so thoughtful and they care so much, and I’m just trying do what I can to support them in making the revolutionary changes they make, informed specifically by how the same was done for me just a few years ago.
Q: What skills did you learn in InIt that you will use this year as a junior advisor?
DULAH: I’m going to use my facilitation skills I learned at InIt to help me be able to facilitate discussions during the weekend.
KAVITA: Vulnerability – both practicing it myself, and supporting other folks in theirs, anti-adultist facilitation, experimental education, emotional intelligence, bringing in both seriousness and joy – the list could go on and on. All these ‘skills’ are rooted in my learning how to be in community. Communal learning and radical collective care are two of the biggest things I bring with me from my time at InIt.
ARIANNA: I learned that not everything needs to be shared in order to be understood. The blueprint of my life story did not need to be shared in order for the group to let me in. Putting my 19 years on this earth into a deliverable format is rather difficult, but the group was so inviting that I didn’t feel pressured. I was more excited to make connections to other people’s journeys because of how raw the program allowed us to be. I hope to bring that same mindset into this Junior Advisor position.
Q: Describe one InIt memory that has stayed with you.
ARIANNA: My memory is more of an emotion that I remember feeling: grateful. I remember feeling anxious because I went into the program with no familiar faces. Once we gathered for the first time, I knew it was going to be easy for me to adapt and find my comfort in this new sea of people. The material was tough, but I feel like I lucked out with my group. Even when we got emotional, we all had a common goal: To learn more. It was the first time I felt wanted and truly welcome into a community.
DULAH: One InIt memory that stayed with me is that the last day of InIt, myself and other delegates ran through the sprinklers in the morning before taking our group pictures.
KAVITA: I feel like what has stayed with me is really more a person than a memory. This person – a volunteer and one of my discussion group’s co-facilitators – was incredibly engaged in conversations. In workshops and discussion group meetings, they embodied real talk in a way that foundationally shifted myself and other folks in the room. At the end of the week, we reflected together as they walked me outside to my mom’s car. We paused, standing still, and though I don’t totally remember everything that was shared, I remember them saying “I learned so much from you this week.” I don’t think anyone had ever said that to me before, much less an adult that I felt that I had learned so much from. I feel like that moment was InIt for me – because yes InIt is about bringing it, about real talk, about community – but really it’s about young people.
Q: What are you most looking forward to working with the InIt Class of 2019?
KAVITA: Literally everything? That sounds silly but it’s true. I’m looking forward to the good times, the tougher times, the jokes, the realness. I’m looking forward to learning with them and from them, to being in community with them.
ARIANNA: I am excited to hear about where people came from and how we all end up sharing a space. I’m curious to know what got them here with InIt and what they intend to get out of Immersion Weekend. I want to be a resource but also to be someone they feel comfortable sharing with. I don’t know where they’ve come from, but I know that now we share the same stepping stone on our life path. I am excited to be a part of theirs and hope they reciprocate the same energy.
DULAH: I am most looking forward to getting to know the delegates and being able to help and support them in any way that I can. I want them to know I’m always there for anything they need to talk about.
Arianna and Kavita’s graduating InIt Class of 2016