Menlo-Atherton Culture Keepers, or M.A.C.K., is a monthly lunchtime group that provides a space for students and staff to be recognized and heard when exploring issues related to identity, power, and privilege. Group founders Shannon Smoot and Allie Brody believe these three elements are key aspects of any community and should be regularly discussed.
M.A.C.K. was created after Smoot and Brody visited M-A last year, as the two were inspired to facilitate a discussion about identity, power, and privilege between different groups on campus. When Smoot came to M-A as an intern earlier
this year from the University of San Francisco (USF), she and Brody were asked to “create a space for this dialogue as a more ongoing support program.” Both Smoot and Brody are second year School Counseling Interns from USF and hope students and teachers are eager as they are to create a better environment at M-A.
Currently, M.A.C.K. is divided into student and staff sections, in order for each group to feel comfortable sharing experiences, thoughts, and concerns. The staff section of M.A.C.K. varies from eight to twelve members while the student M.A.C.K. is smaller, and hopes to expand.
M.A.C.K. meets at lunch either on the PAC theatre stage or in E-23. While there are no confirmed days that M.A.C.K. meetings are to be held, Smoot and Brody look to organize dates soon. The M.A.C.K. meetings include engaging in art and group activities.
For now, M.A.C.K.’s short term goal is to provide the space for students and staff to voice their opinions or experiences. However, this is tricky because they are offering this at lunch. Smoot and Brody informed that the staff M.A.C.K. is successful, but the student M.A.C.K. has room for improvement. The group is thinking about changing its structure in the spring, but no major decisions have been made.
Smoot was inspired to begin this group because she has a huge passion for allowing students’ voices to be heard. She wants to see people in the M-A community seek “space and facilitation for students and staff to engage in topics that they might not have the opportunity to otherwise.” Brody was once a student at M-A and now working “on the other side,” is able “to see some of the same patterns within the twelve year span” she has known M-A. She loves M-A and wants to create a positive and productive change on campus for staff and students.
M.A.C.K.’s definition of a “culture keeper” is “someone who is committed to honor the cultural legacies of all individuals within a community by participating in critical activities in order to build a Culture of equity, respect, and justice.” By engaging in discussion about identity, power, and privilege with diverse groups, students are able to learn about the unique and different experiences of each individual. This should generate not only appreciation, acceptance, and respect, but also honor. “Having these meetings and discussions can lead to a culture grounded in values that center experiences and inform practices and systems.”
Many people in the M-A community are uncomfortable talking openly about important issues in their lives and in the community in general. M.A.C.K. wants to provide both students and staff the opportunity and space to voice their experiences at M-A. Smoot looks to “encourage and welcome members of our school-community to engage in this difficult yet critical dialogue.” Smoot sees the group as especially important because we live in an area of varying identities, experiences, and values. By having these conversations and meetings, M.A.C.K. wants a school culture rooted in equity, respect, and justice.
M.A.C.K.’s long term goal is more complicated than simply changing one specific thing in the community. This is rather a process in which the community needs to be consistent in acceptance, respect, and consideration. M.A.C.K. wants to maintain critical dialogue, building critical consciousness, self-awareness, reflection, and community acceptance.
Smoot, Brody, and all of M.A.C.K. are determined to hear community members’ voices and experiences and have them heard and respected. Students, teens, or anybody in general have the opportunity to learn from others and build a better community with their peers. Being a part of M.A.C.K. allows people to be part of a larger movement of young people engaging in this work.
Smoot and Brody want people to know that M.A.C.K. is not an intimidating space. The leaders work to ensure that the meetings are “low key, comfortable, and interesting for everyone involved.” Smoot encourages members of the community to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone by engaging in these types of conversations, because if things are happening, people should be discussing them and finding ways to fix or improve it.