I was inspired to found the Animal Rights Club after dissecting a sheep’s brain in anatomy class during my junior year at Hewitt. Though anatomy was one of my favorite classes, I worried that participating in the dissection went against everything I knew about protecting and advocating for animals. Wondering how I could both fight for animal welfare and fully participate in a class I loved, I went to my anatomy teacher, Ms. Joan Wolf, and talked to her about my conflict. She told me that if I did not want to dissect the sheep’s brain I did not have to, but the truth is I had always loved science and anatomy and I wanted to do the dissection. As a science teacher who is very passionate about animals, Ms. Wolf helped me see how I could participate in our class activities while still fighting for animal welfare. After discussing my concerns with her, I realized that I did not have to take an aggressive stance against the dissection, but could instead channel my feelings of conflict into an upper school club that focused on learning about animal rights and using that knowledge to take action on behalf of animals.
I have always been passionate about animal welfare. My mom and I have openly discussed issues pertaining to the homelessness and abuse of animals since I was very young, and we volunteer together at shelters and animal sanctuaries. We also adopted two of our very own rescue dogs. Last year, my love of animals led me to join the Farm Sanctuary Youth Leadership Council, a board of teenagers who share the same interest in raising awareness for animal welfare causes, and starting an Animal Rights Club at Hewitt felt like the right next step in my desire to become a leader in this cause. Once my club proposal was approved, I could not wait to get started and instantly reached out to my fellow upper schoolers to invite them to join. I received a plethora of emails from students interested in participating in the club, as well as the overwhelming support of my own friends. Although creating my own club and putting myself out there as a leader felt risky, the uplifting response from the Hewitt community really helped me gain confidence, and soon enough I was presenting about my club in front of the entire upper school at a town hall meeting.
The Animal Rights Club has organized several successful projects and achieved many important goals this year. Our first activity of the fall was to bring back Meatless Mondays in the cafeteria in order to show people how the simple act of not eating meat once a week can create a major positive change for our environment. Through conversations with Head of Upper School Ms. Elizabeth Stevens, Director of Facilities and Operations Mr. Lou Uliano, and Chef Stephanie Silvera, our club found that everyone was incredibly supportive of our idea, and soon Meatless Mondays were back in Hewitt’s cafeteria, along with the delicious vegetarian and vegan meal options already being offered every day. To teach our community about the impact of Meatless Mondays, our club also invited Ms. Arianna Duncan, an educator from Farm Sanctuary, to come speak about farm animal welfare and how the meat industry affects climate change by producing harmful greenhouse gases like methane. We invited the Earth Club and any interested upper school students and faculty to attend, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many people at Hewitt cared about our cause and wanted to learn more. In addition to speaking about the meat industry and sharing ways we can cut down on animal products in our own lives, Ms. Duncan also took us on a virtual reality tour of Farm Sanctuary’s rescue facility, where we met adorable farm animals with inspiring rescue stories. This event was extremely successful, and I was proud that five new students chose to join the Animal Rights Club afterward.
Perhaps our biggest project of the year was a collection drive benefiting Animal Care Centers of New York City (ACC), an organization that rescues animals and helps them find new homes. Over the course of our week-long drive, the Hewitt community donated blankets, towels, toys, collars, leashes, and pet carriers, and again our club was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support we received from students, families, faculty, and staff. On each morning of the drive, members of the Animal Rights Club sat in the two building lobbies reminding people to bring in items, and soon our small collection boxes were overflowing! When I called ACC to let them know about the number of donations we had received they were thrilled, and the employees expressed gratitude on behalf of the more than 200 animals who were in their care and in need of supplies. Those feelings of gratitude were also obvious in the smiling faces of the club members collecting items, who shared that working for a good cause really brightened their days.
Our club is currently working on writing letters to our local politicians about animal welfare issues we feel strongly about. Each member of the club is using the knowledge they have gained throughout the year to help choose their topic, and conducting research to learn more about their topic and make an informed argument in their letter. Some of the issues students are writing about include the push for no-kill shelters throughout New York State, the banning of foie gras, and the effect of climate change on polar bears and tropical animals. Writing to our city council members and senators is an important way to bring attention to topics that are often overlooked, and we hope our letters help lead to changes throughout our city, state, and eventually, country.
At Hewitt, students have amazing opportunities to develop our voices and sense of purpose through activism we believe in. Founding the Animal Rights Club has taught me that I want to stay connected to animal rights causes for the rest of my life, even if it is not what I intend to study in college or pursue as a career. The club has shaped my passion for animal welfare, and through it, I have seen others realize their own passion for the cause and find personally meaningful ways to take action. Running this club has also helped me build important leadership skills that I can use in other parts of my life. As I organize weekly meetings, plan events and presentations on topics I think club members will find interesting and valuable, and encourage current and prospective members to participate, I am developing my public speaking skills, building relationships with peers in different grades, and learning to work with faculty and guest speakers in a professional manner. Running Hewitt’s Animal Rights Club has also taught me a lot about my own leadership style and how to offer my peers guidance about how we can all make decisions and adjustments in our everyday lives that support our beliefs about animal welfare without being patronizing or critical of others’ actions. I have learned that activism is different for everyone, and that there is value in allowing individuals the freedom to choose how they want to use their knowledge in order to create change.
Remote Learning @ Hewitt Update
On March 31, 2020, The Hewitt School switched to a temporary remote learning model. Since then, the Animal Rights Club has been meeting virtually to discuss animal welfare causes around the world, future projects members want to focus on, and how COVID-19 has affected animals. Club members continue to work on their letters from home by gathering research to support their causes and sharing drafts with each other for feedback.
Interested in Learning More?
To learn more about the some of the animal welfare issues discussed in this article, the author recommends the following resources: