On Monday, May 3, Cate School, in partnership with Saint Andrew’s School (Fla.), hosted its first-ever Round Square Conference. Students from around the world gathered virtually to discuss the theme “Democracy in a Pandemic” and answer the question, “To what extent should we be prepared to surrender basic freedom and liberties for the greater good?”
More than 240 participants attended the conference from 42 schools in 16 countries representing Switzerland, Canada, India, Kenya, Bangladesh, UK, Chile, Germany, Ghana, Peru, Romania, Thailand, South Africa, Tanzania, Armenia, and the USA. Participants heard from keynote speakers Joe Cohn, the Legislative & Policy Director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Dr. Matthew Hipps, Associate Professor of Political Science at Dalton State.
“It is an honor that Round Square asked Cate to host a virtual conference,” said Will Holmes, the Director of Community Engagement at Cate. “Not only was democracy part of the conference title, but it was also a big part of the planning process. This conference was absolutely student-led, from contacting and coordinating with the two keynote speakers to devising the Baraza questions and more. I am super proud of their commitment, ownership, and of the conference itself.”
Cate’s Round Square Board collaborated with conference planners from Saint Andrew’s School throughout the spring in preparation, and many students focused their efforts on being Baraza leaders – students who take on a leadership role to facilitate Baraza or “breakout room” discussions.
“Having an experience like this with so many people from different schools around the world is incredibly rare, especially during COVID,” Charlotte Weis ’22 said. “Even though [the virtual experience] is different than a typical conference, it was really cool to see people from so many different countries all in one place.”
Eighteen Cate students served as Baraza leaders during the conference and, following initial introductions and brief campus tours of both Cate and Saint Andrew’s, led their respective Baraza groups through relevant discussions related to democracy and the pandemic. Initial conversations centered around life during the pandemic – silver linings and hardships – before diving into questions about exercising personal freedoms versus the safety of the community.
“Some of the questions were kind of contentious, and so we had some civil debates in the breakout room,” Juliette Calderon ’22 said. “One topic we discussed was whether we thought it was right for the government to intervene and limit our freedom, and there were some strong opinions, but I enjoyed being able to moderate the conversation and hear all sides of it.”
The first keynote speaker, Joe Cohn, then spoke about the nature of civil liberties before students returned to their Baraza groups to discuss the different ways in which their governments handled the pandemic.
“I was able to hear a lot of perspectives from all over the world,” Jackson Molin ’22 said. “I had people in my group from Canada and India who had very different ideas of what democracy is. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has raised a lot of unanswered questions about how much control a democracy could have, and seeing all of the international perspectives made the conference worthwhile.”
The next keynote speaker, Dr. Hipps, spoke at length about the role of government and the challenges that arise during a pandemic. He explored the responsibilities of the government and its citizens and answered questions on the pandemic becoming politicized, the handling of the vaccine distribution, and what he may have done differently – captivating the audience even through Zoom.
“It was a great opportunity to hear from a political perspective,” said Leilani Mendez ’21. “How the government works in terms of the pandemic, not only in America but also across the world. It led to a lot of good conversations, things like libertarianism versus utilitarianism, and seeing all of the different perspectives was really cool.”
The third and final Baraza group discussion centered on Dr. Hipps’s talk, with students wrapping up the conference discussing key points that resonated with them, in addition to answering questions on inequities revealed by the pandemic and how much authority governments should have during an emergency.
“I really liked what Dr. Hipps had to say,” Juliette said. “It connected back to what we talked about in humanities, and it really resonated with me. We have a unit on privacy versus security, and that connected to the theme of democracy during the pandemic and whether it’s right for the government to infringe on your civil liberties to ensure your safety.”
Cate Round Square Participants: Juliette Calderon ’22, Ella Cassulo ’21, Yulianna Cruz-Trinidad ’21, Lucky Drucker ’22, Julianna Forry ’22, Ophelia Ke ’22, Yuki Kobayashi ’21, Rachel Ma ’22, Leilani Mendez ’21, Jackson Molin ’22, Frankie Nieman ’21, Esteban Paulino ’21, Paige Rawiszer ’22, Sarah Ruelas ’21, Asa Sam ’21, Ryan Suh ’21, Sidney Suh ’22, Charlotte Weis ’22