Over the fall semester, students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School spearheaded a unique series of panel events on campus called “Growing up under Gaslighting.” The series has involved a colorful list of guest speakers, including:
- Sarada Peri, former senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama
- Gadi Ben-Yehuda from the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Kate Roberts, an entrepreneur who was abducted by the Russian mafia
- Marc Minsker, assistant principal of Jackson-Reed High School in Washington, D.C.
- Farrell Bloch, author of Identity and Prejudice
Isabela Kreidler, a senior at B-CC, said her teacher David Lopilato came up with the idea for the series after discovering that Merriam-Webster had dubbed “gaslighting” as its 2022 word of the year. Dictionary searches for the term increased by over 1,740% since the previous year, according to Merriam-Webster.
Tasia Mallombasang, a B-CC sophomore, described gaslighting as “manipulation with the purpose of getting an individual or group to question their own sanity or reality.” They said the series opened their eyes to how psychological manipulation can affect a range of issues.
The word comes from the title of the 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman plays a woman whose husband plays mental tricks to convince her she’s insane.
Both Kreidler and Mallombasang have worked closely with Lopilato over the semester to coordinate speaker events for the series.
“All of these events are student-created, student-led,” Mallombasang said. “At the end of the day, these are all coming from student experiences and a desire to learn more.”
On Friday, Mallombasang moderated a panel discussion on the banning of LGBTQ+ books and the dangers of limiting exposure to diverse identities. School board member Lynne Harris (At-Large) and Robin Lombard from the MoCo Pride Center participated.
Another panel on the same day included Superintendent Monifa McKnight and Dr. Betty Holston Smith, B-CC class of ’59, who discussed race-based gaslighting. Smith was one of the first Black students to join B-CC after desegregation.
On top of speaker events, the students and Lopilato also collaborated with the school’s theater department to put on a student-led production of The Insanity of Mary Girard. B-CC senior Jeremy Gee directed, cast and starred in the play, based on the true story of a Philadelphia woman who spent 25 years in a mental institution after her husband had her declared insane.
After the show, Gee said, “I had multiple people come up to me and tell me how much this play affected them.”
He said it made the most profit of any non-musical play produced during his time at B-CC, and he credits its success to the student-led, collaborative nature of the production.
Aaron Tiao is a senior at B-CC who helps recruit speakers and frame topics for the series. One topic he said students hope to cover in the spring is how gaslighting affects the Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community — a topic Tiao said “strikes deep for me” as a member of the AAPI community.
He said his involvement in the series has “definitely made me more aware of some of the things I experience day to day that I was just accustomed to before.”
The last event in the series takes place today, when social worker Karen Miller will speak with students about what gaslighting can look like in interpersonal teen relationships. Tiao said he wants to make sure these events don’t end with winter break. He’s been working with Lopilato to ensure B-CC continues to host speakers and engage in discussions “for the foreseeable future.”