Disease Week: Examining the Successes and Shortcomings of Global Forum 2019

Caption: Seniors during the student-led SDLC diversity activities.

By, Teresa L. ’19, Katie T. ’19, and Ellisya L. ’19

For months, Winsor students awaited—some eager and some less so—January 23 through 29, a week that promised no homework and instead hours of discussing and attempting to address global health problems. During the five days of Disease Week, the successor to 2017’s Trash Week, the entire Winsor community put aside our normal classes and tried to find solutions to combat specific issues of health and disease around the world. This year’s Global Forum focused on the third of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals—“Good Health and Well-Being.” Students were divided into studios based on their responses to a survey last year; groups differed on whether they were product (“Maker Project”) or policy (“Action Plan”) driven and on their general category of disease or health problem (communicable, non-communicable, or vaccines and medicine).

At the end of the Global Forum, each group presented their project or plan in eight minutes to a panel of five judges from outside of the Winsor community and a collection of their peers. Four finalists—two groups from the Upper School and two groups from the Lower School—presented at an assembly on February 15; a final winner from each division will be selected and then announced on February 28.

The competition element of this year’s Global Forum proved to be one of the more contentious changes for students. “The whole presentation aspect felt like an unnecessary pressure to get a product out…,” said Victoria C. ’19. “It was hard to become motivated for that [because] I know that what we come up with, even if it’s really cool, isn’t necessarily going to be implemented anywhere. I would have preferred a much more relaxed environment of sharing what we learned this week and what we’d done instead of forcing it into a presentation, because a presentation may not have been the right format for everyone.”

Mr. Didier, the creator and head of the Global Forum Faculty Committee, however, felt strongly about the inclusion of a presentation and competition component. “There’s a value to competition … It drives you to take serious the end product,” he said. “If you have to present what you’ve been working on, in some ways that compels you to do a better job on your work because you know you’ve got to share it with other people—that’s what happens in the real world. If we’re talking about global problem-solving, you usually have to present that work. You have to stand up and say, ‘Here’s what we’ve come up with,’ and you have to defend that.”

The other major change since 2017 was the inclusion of several educational workshops and speakers in the Global Forum schedule. Members of the larger Winsor community, such as alumnae and parents, who had experience relating to anything from health to engineering processes, volunteered to speak to the entire school and to smaller groups of students on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Sadie G. ’20 remarked, “Most of the workshops we went to were great … and they were both informative and entertaining.”

Likewise, Helen B.J. ’21 commented, “I thought I learned the most in the workshops.” An anonymous student added, “The workshops were very inspiring. I loved hearing from specialists from very different types of fields!” Additionally, the face-to-face interaction with experts during workshops was a beneficial break from the internet research students completed for their individual projects throughout the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, not all of the workshops and speakers provided valuable information for the purposes of the Global Forum. One workshop billed as “Fact and Fiction about what’s good to eat? Exploring the connection between diet and health,” which was led by a nutritionist connected to the Winsor community and was open to both Lower and Upper School students, promoted information that could be deemed harmful. The workshop leader recommended following a form of intermittent fasting for a few days a week that encourages a caloric intake between a third and a sixth of the daily calorie consumption (1,400-2,400 calories depending on activity level) recommended by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for females ages 9-18.

Some of the speaker’s suggestions did not match the information taught through the Winsor health curriculum; Ms. Baudis stated, “My advice for teenagers is to fuel their body with a variety of whole (non-processed) foods in a balanced way, everyday.” She added, “Everyday there is a new diet, new pill, new food or new recommendation, [and] we teach the importance of accessing accurate health information, analyzing how information might influence decisions, and looking at all health information with a critical eye. If students learn these skills, they will be able to navigate their nutritional decisions in life.” Indeed, several students that were present challenged the workshop-leader and then reported the incident to faculty members. An email apologizing and offering support from Global Forum organizers and Winsor’s Wellness faculty was sent out to workshop participants later that day.

Many Winsor students were particularly concerned that Lower School students had been present. “What I found most upsetting was the fact that it came from a doctor that Winsor had brought in… As a peer supporter, I try to spread the message that younger students shouldn’t trust information about nutrition [that] they find on the internet and should listen to their doctors instead,” said Lydia B. ’19, who was a member of the Global Forum Student Committee. “Lower Schoolers’ being exposed to this kind of damaging misinformation from a scientist undermines that advice.”

“We rely for those workshops on the goodwill of parents and alums to either step forward themselves or to recommend names,” said Mr. Didier. “We got program descriptions from all of the workshop leaders, and on the surface, they all looked great. Once you get speakers into the building, you can’t control what they say. They go off-script all the time … Can we in a system like this, when we’re bringing in speakers from the outside, protect you from things you don’t want to hear? No, we can’t … I thought from what I heard that some of the students handled it perfectly—they spoke truth to what they saw as misconceptions around nutrition. That’s what we’d hope that all of you would do when what you’re hearing doesn’t fit the facts.”

Mr. Didier did acknowledge that further caution and vetting is necessary for topics such as nutrition, as Winsor students are of a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to messages of unhealthy weight loss and dieting. “We’re learning as we go along,” he said. Mrs. Markenson, the head of Upper School, commented, “This incident certainly reminds us that we need to be sure that any speaker who comes in has an accurate sense of the range of ages and maturity levels of the students in their audience. I am grateful to the US students who spoke out in that session and to those who expressed concern for the LS students who were present.” Hopefully, the repercussions of this event will inform and improve the speaker invitation and vetting process for the next Global Forum and all future Winsor events.

Overall, students found this year’s Global Forum to be a vast improvement in its structure and schedule. “I liked Global Forum much more than last year because it was more organized and the week had a clear purpose,” shared Holiday H. ’23. Lettie C. ’19 added, “I also liked how organized the week was—even the free time—dodgeball, trivia—was well thought out by the dedicated Global Forum team.”

“The SDLC stuff we did was phenomenal. Global Forum should make more room for that stuff. It’s about bonding and coming together as a community, and those few hours were honestly the highlight of my entire Global Forum because of that,” commented Lucy N. ’19. “Future Global Forums should have more community based stuff like that. Winsor so heavily preaches students’ raising their voices about what they’re passionate about, but we so rarely actually have the time and materials to do so. This week should be used for more of these essential community discussions like the SDLC class conversations.”

Like Lucy, many students expressed their appreciation of the SDLC activities and stressed that we should include even more of them throughout the week. Lizzie R. ’21, for instance, stated, “I think that the week was a ton of fun but that there was more room for activities such as the SDLC conversations and the fun all-school activities we did that could have helped keep people better focused while in studio time.” In fact, despite the addition of various activities, which broke up studio time throughout the week, some students felt that studio time could have been divided up even more. Although Maya S. ’21 “really enjoyed learning about Alzheimer’s and trying to solve a problem that feels so relevant to so many people,” she also admitted that “the amount of studio time could get tedious at points.”

Despite this improvement, however, some students believe there are ways to get even more out of the program. “[Global Forum] should be even more student-run. Everything that the students contributed made it a gazillion times better. Although faculty guidance is obviously a necessity, the students on this committee are the ones who know the community and can really create a cool Global Forum week,” suggested Lucy. “That should be apparent through the fact that this Global Forum was far better than last time’s and would be even better if it were more student-controlled, especially regarding the outside-Winsor people, like the speakers.”

The student contribution mentioned above took form as the Global Forum Student Committee, a group of around a dozen juniors and seniors who volunteered and began meeting in 2017. After students provided feedback on the Global Forum’s structure and schedule, committee members organized the SDLC, dodgeball, and Sibling Squad activities. A group of four seniors ran the social media for the program. However, their involvement was limited, as the student and faculty groups were separated throughout the planning process.

Committee member Sophie d.C. ’19 shared, “I expected to have more of a role in the coming up with ideas and the actual decision making, but I felt like the separate adult committee was making and finalizing most of the ideas without our input, and our role became giving feedback that seemed like it would be implemented into future Forums, not the 2019 Forum.” Additionally, Kayla L. ’19, also a member of the committee, commented, “I think that the adults should understand that any advice from the student committee does not come from a place of malice or of apathy; rather, we are trying to make sure that the Global Forum runs as smoothly as possible. Because this did not happen, there were many moments during the Forum that could have been improved had the perspective of the student committee been more respected or taken into account.”

“The more I’ve thought about it this year, the more I appreciate that this is fairly radical for what we have at Winsor [as] curriculum has traditionally been what the teachers decide,” said Mr. Didier. “Because we don’t have a model for [student involvement], that’s hard … What we’ve discovered, and I think I’ve felt this, and the kids on the [committee] felt this, is that it was a mistake to separate the faculty and the students. It was absolutely a mistake. I think the students have felt that when I came into their club meetings, we, the faculty, had already made decisions that they weren’t there for. They hadn’t been privy to that process. I think to them it felt like, and probably was, a top-down, ‘Give us some feedback’ [role.]”

For the next Global Forum, Mr. Didier plans to form a new student committee from volunteers from the current Class V and Class VI, as they will be juniors and seniors in 2021. He says that he hopes to combine the faculty and students involved so that students are present for, aware of, and participating in the decision-making process. Surveys seeking feedback from both the students and the faculty have already been distributed.

Ultimately, it seems as though most students felt that many of the changes made to the Global Forum structure since 2017 were beneficial, but there remains quite a bit of room for improvement. As we look ahead to 2021, the Winsor community should acknowledge Disease Week’s shortcomings and appreciate its successes. There were certainly aspects of Global Forum that were disappointing and frustrating, but luckily there are avenues for students and faculty members to offer feedback and have a role in making the decisions that will shape its future iterations. Global Forum is a work in progress, but as long as students are willing to get involved and the faculty leaders are willing to share power with them, it has a bright future ahead.