BDTW has no lasting impacts on school community

December 3, 2019 — by Christine Zhang

Breaking Down the Walls fails to achieve its goal of fostering a more emotionally tight-knit campus

At the Breaking Down the Walls (BDTW) event last year, I watched as some of my closest friends shed tears and admitted to their personal issues. But now, talk of these topics has died down, and the school has returned to its status quo. 

The week-long BDTW event took place from Oct. 22 to Oct. 26 last school year — on Monday, moderator Dean Whellams introduced students to BDTW, and on Tuesday through Friday, freshmen, sophomores and juniors were split into four groups to participate in activities designed to foster a more close-knit school community. Before lunch, students were randomly paired up for bonding exercises such as creating handshakes with each other, and after lunch, Whellams administered a Cross the Line activity in which students silently confessed struggles such as eating disorders and self-harm. 

Despite strong, positive initial reactions to BDTW, the event’s effects have clearly died down over the past year. Since the event only happened for one week — in reality, only one day for each person — there was no potential for BDTW to truly break down the emotional walls at our school in a long-lasting fashion. 

The awkwardness that accompanied some of the activities in BDTW contributed to its lack of significance. Since some of the activities in BDTW were more uncomfortable than engaging, I was unable to truly immerse myself in the experience. 

For instance, the bonding activities before lunch not only included creating a handshake with a random partner, but also taking turns sitting on each other’s legs. I was completely fine with doing a handshake, but there is almost nothing more uncomfortable than sitting on a near-stranger’s thigh for a solid 30 seconds. My partner and I minimized the area of physical contact as much as possible, and even though he is in one of my classes this year, we haven’t talked since then. 

I also felt that the Cross the Line activity provided uncomfortable exposure. Whenever one of Whellams’s statements applied to me and I crossed the line, I could feel my face burning as others watched me walk. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t have the same emotional experience that my friends had when they participated in the activity. 

To lessen the awkwardness, students should have had some say in who they experienced BDTW with. Instead of dividing students into four groups for four different days based on last names, administrators should have allowed students to first form small groups with their friends and then combine these small groups into larger ones for each day of the event. 

This way, although students would still meet others they don’t normally talk to during the morning partner activities, they would feel more comfortable around their friends for the more sensitive Cross the Line.

Nevertheless, BTDW was effective in uniting the school for a few days. Right after the event ended for me, my peers immediately asked me what I thought of the activities — it seemed that most of my classmates treasured the experience they had and wanted to talk more about BDTW. 

Personally, I would say I felt the event’s impact for a day or two. Some of my friends told me about what they learned from BDTW, and I made sure to be empathetic while listening to them, but after they stopped mentioning BDTW, it left my mind as well. 

Likewise for the rest of the school, the event’s effects soon began to subside as students fell back into the routine of school. With no repetition of BDTW or any similar program, students inevitably turned their focus back to their schoolwork, sports and other extracurriculars, preventing any long-term effects of BDTW. 

Instead of a one-time event like BDTW, the school should hold more Club Fair-type activities where clubs, sports teams and other school programs encourage students to join their ranks. These events would provide repeated and effective chances for underclassmen and upperclassmen to bond, as some of students’ strongest friendships are formed through clubs or similar activities. Since students would become members of these programs, these newly forged bonds would last for far longer than those created by BDTW.

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