Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging
- Arab American Heritage Month
- Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
- Black History Month
- Cinco de Mayo
- LGBTQ+ Pride Month
- Lunar New Year
- March Holidays and Celebrations
- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Awareness Week
- Transgender Day of Visibility
- Women’s History Month
Especially in April during Arab American Heritage Month, the Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging acknowledges the particular challenge facing Americans of Arab descent. While they—and Americans of Middle Eastern heritage—have long contributed positively to our country’s history as scientists, politicians, entertainers, and more, popular culture and mainstream media sometimes offer more two-dimensional views. The OIEJB’s goal, therefore, is to push past negative stereotypes and celebrate Arab Americans and Arabs from around the world for their many contributions to mathematics, science, art, and culture.
People of Middle Eastern descent first began to enter the United States around 1875, according to American.gov, and a second wave of immigration followed after 1940. Today, an estimated four million Arab Americans live in the United States. About one in four of all Arab Americans is Lebanese, followed in number by Americans from Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco, and Iraq; nearly half of Arab Americans profiled by the Census Bureau were born in the U.S.
While some heritage months began as celebrations that lasted one week, the Arab American Foundation sought a full month of recognition in 2017. Initially, a handful of states recognized the initiative, but by 2021, 37 state governors, Congress, the U.S. Department of State, and President Joseph Biden had issued proclamations commemorating Arab American History Month.
At Sandy Spring Friends School, we mark the month with displays, book lists, and advisory activities across all three divisions. OIEJB Ambassadors help our community thoughtfully acknowledge this important addition to our Heritage and History Month series.
Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrates people who share heritage from a number of countries and honors their contributions to American life and culture. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies people of Asian descent as “having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent,” including, but not limited to China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, India, Cambodia, Vietnam or the Philippines. Pacific Islanders are people who descended from the islands of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. This classification includes, but is not limited to people from Native Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Guam, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.
Filipino people first began migrating to California in 1587, and waves of immigrants from Japan, China, and other countries followed in 1843. Commemorating that immigration and recognizing the completion of the transcontinental railroad–which would not have been possible without the labor of over 15,000 Asian workers, many of then Chinese–was the goal of “AAPI Heritage Week,” a ten-day celebration signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978. As with other heritage and history months, the week was later expanded to a full month, when President George H.W. Bush signed a bill on May 14, 1991, leading to the official designation of the full month in 1992.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to acknowledge the presence in this country of people with Asian and Pacific Islander heritage without noting both the government-sanctioned exclusion and isolation of those people and more recent examples of racism. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Japanese Internment Camps that were established in 1942 are just two examples; more recently, people with Asian heritage have been centered in negative reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, with hate crimes against Asian people rising 339% in 2021. Resources for getting involved in countering that negative energy can be found at Stop AAPI Hate and AAPI Equity Alliance.
Facilitated by the OIEJB and OIEJB Ambassadors (Upper School students who help the Office with community engagement and outreach), SSFS marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by creating displays in all three academic divisions and other campus buildings; engaging in activities with advisories; curating reading lists, welcoming visiting authors, poets, and performers; and hosting assemblies.
Black History Month came to be through the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson. In 1915 Dr. Woodson formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), and in 1916 that organization started the Journal of Negro History, dedicated to publishing “researcher’s findings on the historical achievements of Black individuals” (NY Times, “How Negro History Week Became Black History Month” February 2021). Dr. Woodson had the goal of “...going back to that beautiful history…to inspire us to greater achievements.” He announced the first Negro History Week in February, 1926.
Dr. Woodson chose February because both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays (February 12 and 14, respectively) are celebrated during that month. Since 1897 Mary Church Terrell, a Washington D.C. educator and community activist, had celebrated with her classes “Frederick Douglass Day” on February 14, and following Lincoln’s assassination many African Americans began celebrating his birthday. Woodson and his colleagues at the ASNLH saw Negro History Week as a way to expand the celebration of Black Americans’ contributions past those two figures; they developed K-12 curricula, lesson plans, posters, important dates and biographical information.
Citizens in West Virginia–where Dr. Woodson lectured frequently–began celebrating what they called Negro History Month in 1940; by 1950, the year that Dr. Woodson died, mayors across the country supported Negro History Week. In 1974, civil rights leaders Bayard Rustin (a Quaker) and Dorothy Height, among others, pressed President Gerald Ford to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to racial justice and moral leadership. In 1976 Ford used the platform of the nation’s bicentennial celebration to issue a statement about the importance of Black History to all Americans, and the annual national celebration of the holiday began.
At Sandy Spring Friends School, we have a rich Black history that surrounds our campus, and we mark the month with a variety of adult and student-generated cross-divisional and interdivisional celebrations. In addition to displays and book lists in the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools, students in Grades 6-12 participate in Advisory activities, and the entire community is treated to a topical assembly.
Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration held on May 5, which commemorates the anniversary of Mexico's first victory over the French Empire at the First Battle of Puebla in 1862. The First Battle of Puebla represented a great victory for the people of Mexico, symbolizing the country’s ability to defend its sovereignty against a powerful foreign union. For context, Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican Independence Day, which is a popular misconception. The independence day of Mexico is actually September 16. While Cinco de Mayo is acknowledged and celebrated in Mexico, it is not treated as a federal holiday.
Although not directly related to our own history, in solidarity with the battle, the United States began celebrating Mexico’s victory in California in 1863. Today, in the United States, the history and patriotism of this day is lost in translation. Commercialization of this Mexican holiday emphasizes the consumption of margaritas, Tex-Mex and Mexican food. The celebration of Cinco de Mayo has turned into a day of stereotypes, rather than a celebration of those who fought valiantly to protect Mexico.
At SSFS, our goal is to spread the truth of Cinco de Mayo, as well as to destroy stereotypical perceptions. Additionally, the Hispanic/ LatinX Affinity Group seeks to celebrate the other vibrant and beautiful Hispanic/LatinX cultures of the world.
Every spring, Christians around the world celebrate Easter, considered by many the most important Christian holiday. Easter has both Christian and Anglo-Saxon roots, and commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. Its name comes from the pagan goddess Eostre, who was celebrated in spring, and while the origins of the iconography most commonly associated with the holiday—eggs and rabbits—are ancient and not entirely clear, the symbols are thought to be related to new life, rebirth at springtime, and Jesus’s resurrection from the tomb.
The exact date of the observance—which began approximately 200 years after Jesus’s death—is based on lunar calendars and therefore is not fixed; it happens on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. Eastern Orthodox churches use a slightly different calculation based on the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar (which is 13 days ahead of the former), with the result that the Orthodox Easter celebration usually occurs later than that celebrated by Protestants and Roman Catholics. Moreover, the Orthodox tradition prohibits Easter from being celebrated before or at the same time as Passover.
In the Christian calendar, Easter follows Lent, the period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, which traditionally is observed by acts of penance and fasting to represent the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is chiefly observed by Catholics, although many Christians from other denominations take part in the practice of receiving ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads as a visible sign of penance.
Closer to the Easter holiday, Christians also celebrate Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week, historically the most sacred time of year for Christians. Palm Sunday celebrates the New Testament story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem and being greeted by people waving palm branches. Christians consider the day symbolic of welcoming Jesus into their hearts and showing willingness to follow him. Following Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, and Good Friday solemnly recalls the Crucifixion of Jesus; in some traditions, people meditate or pray before a wooden cross erected especially for Good Friday.
Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem coincided with Passover, the Jewish festival that Jesus had traveled to the city to celebrate, and in many countries the name for Easter is derived from Passover, or Pesach. In France, Easter is called Pacques, in Spain Pascua, and in Italian, Pasqua. Similar to the range of observances that mark Passover in the Jewish faith, Christians celebrate Easter in a variety of ways, and some people in the United States who do not regularly attend church nevertheless dye eggs, make Easter baskets, and gather with family to share a meal on Easter Sunday. Sandy Spring Friends School students represent this range, and teachers maintain open communication with families to be sensitive to individual household celebrations, providing accommodations as needed for observant Christians.
The history of people who represent the LGBTQ+ community (see the acronym section below for an explanation) is as long as the history of humanity, but the history of equal, open, and legal human rights for the LGBTQ+ community is shorter. The joys and struggles celebrated during Pride Month are ongoing, just as struggles and joys experienced by other communities we have highlighted during the OIEJB History and Heritage Month Series are ongoing. Until 1973, for example, the American Psychiatric Association labeled homosexuality as a mental illness. Recent victories in marriage equality are still overshadowed by the lack of clear, fully-inclusive non-discrimination protections in more than half of U.S. states. Nevertheless, members of the LGBTQ+ community continue fighting for equal rights and protections.
Historians of Pride Month trace its beginnings to a clash between law enforcement officers and people gathered in and around the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City, on June 28, 1969. The inn had been the target of previous police raids–similar to other establishments in other cities–and on the night of June 28 some onlookers, including transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson (who some credit with initiating the protest) felt the accumulated frustration of searches based on little more than homophobia boil over; they fought back against police, and continued to fight back over the next several nights during other skirmishes with law enforcement. A few weeks later, a “gay power” rally was organized in nearby Washington Square Park, and one year later, organizers who wanted to continue commemorating the Stonewall resistance planned a march to Central Park organized around the theme “Gay Pride,” and a movement was born.
Since its beginning, Pride has been a political event, a protest against unjust systems, even when the celebration has elements of lightheartedness and fun. Pride rallies have been used to register voters and to pressure politicians to express their support for the LGBTQ+ community by marching. While the movement began in the United States, Pride month events now happen around the world. At Sandy Spring Friends School, we mark the month with displays and reading lists in all three divisions, advisory activities in MS and US, and a variety of other activities intended to celebrate members of our community who identify as LGBTQ+. Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, we join with you in affirming that love is love.
What’s in an Acronym?
According to the Associated Press style guide, the acronyms LGBT, LGBTQ or LGBTQIA are "acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. In quotations and the formal names of organizations and events, other forms such as LGBTQIA and other variations are also acceptable with the other letters explained. It generally stands for intersex, and A can stand for allies (a person who is not LGBT but who actively supports the LGBT community), asexual (a person who doesn't experience sexual attraction) or both. The word queer can be considered a slur in many contexts, so limit use of the word to quotes and names of organizations ..." .
The Lunar New Year is an important holiday in many Asian countries. The holiday is known by many names, such as Spring Festival in China, Tet in Vietnam, Solnal in Korean, and Losare in Tibet. Many Asian Americans in the United States celebrate the Lunar New Year by combining Eastern and Western cultural traditions to show their unique identities. The Lunar New Year highlights the importance people place on family reunion and their hope and expectations for the New Year.
The phases of the moon mark when the Lunar New Year starts. It “typically begins with the new moon that occurs between the end of January and the end of February, and it lasts about 15 days until the full moon arrives with the Festival of Lanterns." The holiday began in the second dynasty in China, the Shang Dynasty, about 3,500 years ago. People make sacrifices at the beginning and end of each year. The term Nian (Year) first occurred in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC).
While many people may not know the history of the Lunar New Year, they may still have grown up hearing about the myths and stories of the beast Nian. Once upon a time, the mythical beast Nian went to villages to damage the fields and people’s lives. People tried to place food at their doors to prevent Nian from hurting them. A wise, old man suggested scaring Nian with loud noises and red color, so people made firecrackers to stop Nian from attacking their houses. After these steps were taken, Nian stopped destroying the villages. Therefore, setting off firecrackers and making a lot of food has become the tradition of the Lunar New Year.
There are many traditions for the Lunar New Year. People would clean their houses to “get rid of bad fortune from the old year” and usually visit and greet their families and friends during the Lunar New Year. In Korea, people would say, "Please receive a lot of good fortune for the New Year” and in China, people usually say, “Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year." Many Asians have a powerful sense of clan and family. Getting together with family is what many people look forward to during the New Year celebration. Different Asian countries have unique ways to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but giving and receiving red envelopes is a shared tradition. People place money into red envelopes and give them to the children and seniors in the house.
Celebrating the Lunar New Year reflects Asian people's expectation of a family reunion and love of food. Hopefully, more people worldwide can celebrate the Lunar New Year together in the future.
- Cindy. (n.d.). The Origin and History of Chinese New Year
- History.com Editors
- Roth, M. S., Popular Lunar New Year traditions from around the world.
Purim is celebrated by Jews all over the world on the evening of the 14th Day of the Hebrew month Adar, in the Spring. Since the Hebrew Calendar is lunisolar, Purim's date changes each year.
Each Purim, the Jewish people dress up in costumes and retell the story from the Biblical Book of Esther (The Megillah). Esther was a heroic woman in Jewish Tradition who saved the Jewish People from complete destruction by an evil politician, Haman. One custom is to eat yummy triangle-shaped pastries called Hamantaschen (which are said to resemble Haman’s hat) and to make loud noises throughout the reading of the Megillah: booing when the name “Haman” is mentioned, while cheering for Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai.
It is a mitzvah (a dutiful good deed) to hand out portions of food (Mishloach manot) on Purim, including Hamantaschen, to friends and neighbors, especially as a form of charity.
Though Purim is a fun and festive holiday on the surface, it is a truly meaningful time for Jewish People all over the world as we celebrate resilience in the face of adversity, and deeply contemplate Tikkun Olam (healing the brokenness in the world). How can we each be resilient in the face of evil? How can we advocate for each other and—like Esther—stand up for what’s right when it seems so hard to do so?
Chag Purim Sameach! Have a happy and meaningful Purim!
St Patrick's Day: March 17
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast—on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest productions, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world in locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia. Popular St. Patrick’s Day recipes include Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, and champ. In the United States, people often wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Learn more!
Holi, Hindu Festival of Colors
Holi is a festive and colorful Hindu celebration that marks the end of winter, the beginning of spring, and victory of good over evil. It is celebrated annually after the first full moon in March, the first day of the new season of the astronomical calendar. Sandy Spring Friends students have been known to participate in the tradition knows as "Rangwali Holi," where people throw colored powder on each other! Learn more.
Nowruz: March 20-21
This is one of humanity's oldest holidays, and although it may be often called Persian New Year, it predates the Persian Empire and can be traced back 5,000 years to the Sumerian and the Babylonian civilizations. Nowruz begins on either March 20 or 21 , on the spring equinox, when the days and nights are equal lengths, with days then becoming longer, signifying the arrival of warmer weather. Learn more.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Awareness Week (MMIW or MMIWG) runs during late April or early May. Since 2017, Indigenous/Native American activists and their allies have driven this grassroots effort to raise awareness about the disparity between the number of missing and murdered Indigenous/Native American women and girls and the number of reported cases. According to the National Crime Information Center, “In 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases.”
The Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging invites the community to show solidarity with Indigenous/Native communities in a variety of ways, often including wearing red (the color chosen by the movement) on a designated day and participating in special events coordinated by the OIEJB Ambassadors and other US students.
What is Passover?
Pesach (meaning “Passover” in English) is a major Jewish festival observed around the world in the springtime. Jews gather together to retell the biblical story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, contemplating and celebrating themes like redemption, freedom, and social justice.
Watch this video created by the Jewish Community at SSFS to learn about fun and meaningful Passover traditions.
“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
This spring holiday occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, during the full moon. It lasts seven days in Israel and eight days in the Jewish diaspora, where the first two days and the last two days of Passover are considered festival days on which work is prohibited. Passover starts and ends at sunset.
Jews participate in a Passover Seder on the first night of Passover and, outside of Israel, a second seder on the second night. The Seder (meaning “order”) is a communal meal that is structured around rituals, songs, a retelling of the Exodus story, and thought-provoking conversations that engage participants to question and reflect on the themes and values of the story while connecting with shared traditions of Jewish peoplehood. It is a tradition to invite and welcome guests to a Seder, and to learn and reflect together on its universal themes. As the Seder has evolved over the centuries, there is a great diversity in how Seders look from household to household, and what type of Haggadah—the book that guides guests through a seder—is used.
Dietary Restrictions on Passover
Throughout the entire week of Passover, students at Sandy Spring Friends School may be keeping Kosher for Passover, which involves eating Matzah (or unleavened bread) at each meal. This is a mitzvah (commandment) and a reminder of the unleavened bread the Israelites hurriedly took with them into the desert out of Egypt according to the Exodus story.
“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover.” (Pesach Haggadah, Magid)
There is a spectrum of practices surrounding dietary laws on Passover, which include avoiding chametz (or foods containing leavened wheat, rye, barley, oats, or spelt), using only special silverware and dishes for the duration of the holiday that have not been in contact with chametz year round, and the prohibition of eating Kitniyot which encompasses legumes (such as peanuts, beans, and peas), rice, and corn. Individual students and families may engage with dietary laws and practices in a variety of nuanced ways, so teachers in each division maintain open communication with families as needed and remain sensitive to individual needs.
Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!
Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, begins at sunset on a different day each year and ends at sunset a month later. During this period, practicing Muslim students at Sandy Spring Friends School fast (not eating food or drinking water) from dawn until dusk (approximately 6:00 am to 8:00 pm).
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim Lunar calendar and therefore takes place 10 days earlier each year. Muslims fast the month of Ramadan to devote themselves to their faith and come closer to Allah, or God, in order to increase their spirituality, discipline, self-restraint, and generosity. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which form the foundation upon which Muslims live their lives. The other pillars are faith, prayer, charity and performing the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
Ramadan celebration also often involves prayers late into the night. It is not unusual to be up past midnight for prayers and then get up around 5:00 am to eat before dawn and pray. Therefore, Muslim students may be tired, hungry, or dehydrated in classes, especially late in the afternoon. Student needs will vary by division; Upper and Middle School students may need accommodations regarding deadlines or quiz/test-taking. In addition to in-class discussion and celebration of the religious period, Lower School students will benefit from open communication with their families to understand individual needs and fasting schedules. Across all three divisions, SSFS students have access to alternative lunchtime locations, should they need it.
NOTE: This important religious observance should not be confused with or grouped with Arab American Heritage Month. It’s important to note that not all Arab Americans are Muslims, and the majority of Muslims are non-Arabs.
Muslim Student Affinity Group Hosts Ramadan Iftar
Since 2022, the Muslim Affinty Group has hosted Ramadan Iftar for members of the Sandy Spring Friends School community. The spirit of Ramadan is one of unity, gathering together, and reconnecting with members of our community. This event allows time to strengthen our bond as we break our fast together.
Each year, March 31 marks International Transgender Day of Visibility. On this day, we celebrate transgender and non-binary people in the SSFS community and around the globe. We believe that Trans rights are human rights, and that everyone should feel safe to live openly and authentically because there is that of God in all of us.
Related to this day, the Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging acknowledges the growing list of Anti-trans bills being introduced in states across the country that attempt to make it impossible for Trans people to find adequate mental and physical healthcare and to make it illegal for Trans people to exist. Additionally, we recognize the alarming rates of violence impacting Black and Brown transgender women.
Transgender and Gender Non Conforming people are vital members of our community and our society, and especially on this day of visibility, we hold them in the light.
While some history and heritage months have been around for a long time, Women’s History Month is a more recent addition to the national calendar. In 1978, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women (SCCSW) launched “Women’s History Week” to coincide with International Women’s Day (March 8). Dozens of schools responded enthusiastically, planning special programs for the week-long observance; an annual “Real Women” essay contest drew hundreds of entries from Sonoma County students.
The celebration grew after Molly Murphy MacGregor, a member of the SCCSW, participated in The Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. When participants heard about the success in Sonoma County, they not only initiated similar celebrations in their local communities, but also pledged support for an effort to create “National Women’s History Week.”
Two years later, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week, which read in part:
From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.
Later that same year, a bipartisan partnership between Representative Barbara Mikulski and Senator Orrin Hatch established a Congressional Resolution for National Women’s History Week in 1981. By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month; using this inertia and state-by-state action, lobbyists pressed Congress to expand the celebration to the entire month of March, and in 1987 Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity.
The Sandy Spring Friends School community observes Women's History Month with special book lists, decorations, displays, and activities across all three divisions. Learn more.