Lowell's Ally Group Puts Down Strong Roots

by Michelle Belton, Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Initiatives
The end of the school year was overwhelming with many fond memories of the class of 2018 filling my thoughts. I’d like to share with you some of my reflections on the work of Lowell’s Ally Group. Formed by members of this year’s graduating class when they were in 7th grade, the Ally Group has become one of the Middle School’s most meaningful and community-centered groups.

The group was the idea of Lillian Jackson-Jones. As a 6th grader, Lillian felt that the Lowell community should be more aware and able to support individuals who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). She brought her concern to Director of Middle School Kavan Yee. Together, they reached out to other schools and invited a group of students from Edmund Burke to share how they began their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. The seed was planted.

As the director of diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives, I was thrilled when Kavan shared with me the desire to have a group with a similar purpose in the Middle School. I was equally excited to partner with Lillian, who was then in 7th grade, to pioneer this wonderful opportunity. I reached out to Lillian who then rallied a few friends, and the Ally Group was launched.

The group’s first goal was to use GLSEN’s national awareness campaign, Ally Week, to show support for members of Lowell’s community who identify as LGBTQ. During Ally Week in September of 2016, the Ally Group led a Middle School gathering focused on how to be an ally to those who identify as LGBTQ and also to anyone looking to connect around identity and difference. This gathering provided a wonderfully engaging and emotional moment for the Middle School students, and it concluded with a broad invitation to join the Ally Group.

The group met for lunch and recess once a week that first year. They quickly came to consensus that discussion topics should not be limited LGBTQ issues. The meetings were a space to vent and process what was happening in the world, as well as on our own campus. Topics included social media, body image, learning differences, the meaning of diversity, how to create a safe school environment for different political opinions, and the use of stereotypes, satire, and teasing. Often, our meetings were both engaging and challenging. The group learned how to listen and respectfully disagree, how to give everyone the chance to speak, and how to plan for gatherings that would be thought provoking, validating, and meaningful to the broader Middle School student body.

One of the topics that generated a considerable amount of discussion was the Black Lives Matter movement. The Ally Group was racially mixed, and our meetings allowed students to learn from each other’s perspectives. Understanding the importance of this movement and figuring out what middle schoolers could do about it took many lunch meetings. Ultimately, the group decided that a gathering on the movement would bring awareness to it and broaden the discussion. Weeks of preparation, debates, and managing conflicts occurred before the final gathering took place in February 2017. In the end, the Black Lives Matter gathering was a highlight of the year and an example of community-wide participation and learning.

This year, the Ally Group tackled another dilemma. How do we keep the group going beyond our time at Lowell? With this question in mind, the group began looking for new members and planning meetings to welcome them. Younger students joined, and a year of fresh discussion topics flowed. The expanded Ally Group led a Middle School gathering on microaggressions and organized Lowell’s Walkout for Gun Control and School Safety. These topics were on the minds and in the hearts of Middle School students, and the Ally Group felt a responsibility and desire to build a space for discussion and action.

As we reflected on the work of the Ally Group as a whole, students shared their insights about why the group is so vital and what they gained from coming to meetings each week. Below are just a few of their sentiments:
  • “It is very important to make everyone feel welcome.”
  • “It’s important to have a place to discuss…identity.”
  • “[It] helped me to find myself.”
  • “We can disagree here—but we still listen.”
  • “It teaches you how to stand up for what you believe in—and [I] learned how to talk to people with different perspectives.”
  • “It really brought us together as a community, and our friendships have grown so much as a group.”
  • “[It] had as much of an impact on us as on the community at large.”
I was so honored to end the year with our Ally Group leading the Lowell contingent during the Capital Pride Parade in June. The Ally Group truly exemplifies the importance of student voice and community engagement.

What a great gift this has been for me as well as the Lowell community.

We are looking forward to continuing the Ally Group with new members and topics in the years to come. The group is open to all students who want to participate and help educate and support our community.

It is very important to make everyone feel welcome.

[The Ally Group] helped me to find myself.

It’s important to have a place to discuss…identity.

It really brought us together as a community, and our friendships have grown so much as a group.”
We can disagree here—but we still listen.

[It] had as much of an impact on us as on the community a large.

It teaches you how to stand up for what you believe in—and [I] learned how to talk to people with different perspectives.”