February 8, 2023

Students Lead Toward Gender Justice

On Saturday, February 11th, Oakwood students and faculty will bring together leading human rights activists from around the world for Oakwood’s inaugural Gender Justice Summit (GJS). This landmark event, with a focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #5: to achieve gender equality, is organized and facilitated by a group of passionate, advocacy-driven Oakwood students. 

“Oakwood got this conversation on the map, and we really wanted the kids to speak for themselves and show how they have a voice here; We wanted it to be student-centered,” says Jenna Frost, Director of Admissions, 7-12. The Oakwood student task force has collaborated with faculty and global activists to facilitate a wide range of summit workshops. Oakwood English Teacher and Gender Justice Summit Director Melissa Berton gave students ownership over the process of organizing this historic event. “The idea is for students to be the drivers behind the ideas, to figure out the logo, the marketing, the breakout sessions, the speakers,” she shares. Each task force leader brings a unique perspective, and their collective commitment to social justice has become a powerful force in the fight for gender equality.”

Student and faculty organizers of the Gender Justice Summit

Below, four GJS student task force leaders share their thoughts about the work they put into creating the summit:

Gia ‘23

Oakwood GJS student task force leader and The Pad Project ambassador Gia Frank saw the GJS as an opportunity for students to create tangible change. “We really wanted this to be student-led because students and the youth are going to be the leaders of the gender justice movement,” says Gia. With Oakwood at the forefront of the menstrual equity movement, Gia was inspired by Oakwood graduates who laid the foundations for student activism. “As an underclassman, I looked up to so many seniors, who were so dedicated to improving the conditions of menstruators and to being an advocate and a voice.” Gia has harnessed her passion for feminism and the environment into a breakout session on Climate Feminism with Oakwood Secondary School Teacher and Director of Community Engagement and Experiential Learning Phu Tranchi. “Phu and I were brainstorming about what we could do to bring our passion for environmental justice into the Summit. We want to look at patriarchal environmental systems and explore what it looks like to approach environmental justice from a feminist lens.” She explains the importance of educating on these less familiar topics and the transformative power that comes with a community rooted in social activism. “I think that this summit is going to change people for the better, and that was my #1 priority. I want people to leave learning at least one new thing—have at least one brain-boggling moment, and I feel that we are going to accomplish that.”


Priya ‘24

Priya initially became involved with the GJS after seeing the call to action in Oakwood’s Daily News. Their desire to spread awareness of gender-based oppression and the fight for gender equality has been a personal journey to advocacy and education. “I became involved because so many people are discriminated against for their identity, and I genuinely believe that people should be treated equally, regardless of their gender.“ As the student facilitator for the I Kick and I Fly breakout session, Priya has been collaborating with social justice activist, feminist campaigner, journalist, Emmy award-winning documentarian, professor, and founder of Apne Aap Worldwide, Ruchira Gupta. Ruchira’s work to empower women and create a world where no child is bought or sold is inspiring to Priya. ‘We have a cultural bond, and that is very special to me. I have a lot to learn from her.” They share that their favorite part of the process has been the welcoming community within the GJS student task force and “finding like-minded people who also believe in gender justice.”

We really wanted this to be student-led because students and the youth are going to be the leaders of the gender justice movement

Gia '23

Amelia ‘24

Amelia joined the GJS task force through her work with The Pad Project and as a way to open up conversations around gender. “Before running this event, I didn’t talk about gender issues with people outside of The Pad Project, but now I think it’ll be a much bigger topic that is talked about openly and during school,” she shares. Amelia and Rita ‘25 have been collaborating with Poker Power President Erin Lydon on a breakout session.Poker Power is all about women in the business world. It’s about gaining skills that translate to the real world.” Amelia was drawn to Lydon’s work after observing how, in certain situations, women feel the need to apologize for their opinions and doubt their own value. “Poker Power feels like the perfect thing where you learn to stick up for yourself. I think people will come out of our breakout room feeling empowered and with new skills that they can take beyond the summit,” she shares. In addition to her work facilitating the Poker Power workshop, Amelia is at the helm of the event’s student-run social media account and sharing event information with the Oakwood community and beyond. “This is for everyone—regardless of gender. This is a conversation that everyone needs to have.”

Diego ‘24

Diego’s commitment to social justice is fueled by his family’s experience of immigrating to the United States. ”What happens at the borders is dehumanizing. I joined The Pad Project due to my own desire to see more equal rights and more humane treatment of women across the world,” he shares. Diego joined the GJS student task force through his involvement with The Pad Project. Diego, along with Oakwood High School Principal William Perkins Tift and High School Dean Ryan Rockmore had many lengthy discussions on the best way to approach their breakout session on Men in Feminism. “We decided to look at it more introspectively and try to identify how our actions as men subconsciously promote patriarchal power structures,” he says. Diego hopes that this breakout session will help to encourage a new mindset, rooted in empathy. “We are hoping to provide a lens for men to look at their actions and truly evaluate how that might impact someone. I hope we are able to provide the tools to recognize our faults and strive to do better,” he says, adding that while the summit is a collective of many goals, “as a whole…the main goal is to spark a conversation and drive those in the audience to action.”