Community / Opinion

Creating space for necessary discussions

The day after Derek Chauvin was pronounced guilty of murdering George Floyd, I attended one of the optional meetings offered during morning classes. I was saddened, though, to find only a handful of students there. I do not believe this is because there was no one beyond that space who wanted to have a conversation, but I think it shows the issue with Dana Hall’s approach: spaces like the ones provided after Derek Chauvin’s trial should be required. Learning about these sorts of topics should not be optional, but deeply embedded in our school’s culture.  

I have heard arguments suggesting that requiring social justice conversations would not make all students care more about an issue. While that may be true for some, using required time would allow students who are interested in educating themselves access to spaces where they can do so without missing classes. It may inspire some to act when they might otherwise not have.    

I for one had few opportunities to discuss the anti-Asian violence and rhetoric that has been so prevalent during the pandemic. This only changed when Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn spoke to students and faculty at an extended all-school meeting. That does not mean there have not been other discussions happening on campus, but they are not ones that I had been aware of or had access to.  

Dr. Blackburn’s detailed and thoughtful presentation is a clear example that all-school meetings can be used to address more serious issues. She discussed disturbing rhetoric and actions in a way that was appropriate for all listeners. Dana Hall should regularly incorporate these important conversations into all-school meetings, gatherings, or classrooms, as opposed to episodically in response to current events. Students would gain a greater understanding of societal issues so that when current events do occur, they have the necessary context.

Above all else, we must include Middle School students in these conversations. Some believe that we should cater to the youngest students and that fifth grade is too young to consider such heavy topics. A twelfth grader might indeed be more capable of understanding and processing difficult subjects than a fifth grader, but that is not an excuse to completely shelter younger students.   

All-school meetings are so valuable, as they are one of the few times during the week that the entire Dana Hall community gathers together. This time could be used to educate students and faculty on a basic level about an issue, and then perhaps supplemented later with other discussions divided based on age appropriateness (one for the Middle School, one for the Upper School). However, there should always be at least one opportunity for both the Upper School and Middle School to learn together.  

While the topics we currently discuss in Forum are important, I think a more productive use of this class time would be to implement a curriculum that includes lessons on systemic inequities in society. It is crucial to expand discussions of racism, homophobia, sexism, and more beyond a critical current event to avoid promoting the idea that these issues as sporadic happenings, while they are actually deeply engraved in society.  

Education is the best form of prevention. The kinds of issues I have mentioned are not just one club’s or department’s concern. The role of educator far too often falls on the shoulders of social studies teachers and SHADES. These spaces should be utilized, but they should not be the only ones actively educating others.  

I do understand, though, that these conversations can be traumatic for some, so students should be allowed to opt out. However, Dana Hall should not assume that this will be the case for all students, as I am sure many would appreciate and benefit from the learning opportunity. If we can successfully carry out curriculums across all grades that are committed to awareness and involvement, we can prevent harmful and ignorant comments or actions at our institution and outside of it.  

By discussing topics episodically, excluding the Middle School from conversations, and mainly providing optional spaces that require students to miss a class, Dana Hall is promoting privilege. It truly is a privilege to ignore issues that some in our society are forced to deal with daily—often when they are even younger than the youngest Dana Hall students. For example, Dana Hall cannot claim to be an anti-racist institution if it uses age as an excuse to avoid discussions of systemic racism.  

I am calling upon Dana Hall’s administration and student leadership to find creative ways to implement required, ongoing discussions of social justice and societal inequities so that our community is better equipped to respond when issues occur.

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