Community / Opinion

The ethics of the choice to return to campus

In early August, when the Dana Hall administration released the school’s original plan to start 100% online, I was disappointed yet not surprised. I understood that by staying home, Dana Hall was prioritizing the safety of the community. I was upset because I was missing out on my senior year. Still, that chagrin was overwhelmed by the gratitude that the administration was prioritizing the health of my peers and teachers. This choice felt in line with the lessons I had been taught since I was a child: sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good of the community. 

However, after facing what I presume was insurmountable pressure from parents unhappy with the remote education plan, two weeks later the Board of Trustees and the Head of School made the difficult decision to offer instead a hybrid model in conjunction with online learning. At first, I abhorred the decision. I believed that returning to campus was unfair to the boarding students, not in line with what the teachers wanted, and most of all unsafe. I was vehement in my decision to stay online, protesting the fact that I was even given this choice. 

One after another, my friends chose to return to campus. Slowly, a choice which I viewed as black and white, right and wrong, became gray and hazy. Eventually, I made the decision to return to campus, convincing myself that I was not creating the problem, just contributing to it. I mean, you only have one senior year, right? 

Although Dana Hall and other independent schools have avoided a COVID outbreak thus far, I made the choice to return fully believing it was the wrong thing to do. I rationalized this choice by convincing myself that, in this awful situation, I should take the opportunity presented to me, even if it is unfair. 

Despite apparent safety, the hybrid model at Dana Hall is riddled with inequity. The boarders are not given the option to return to campus, meaning they miss out on the in-between-classes socializing, black day photo-ops, and occasionally more time with teachers. There is no way around this fact: the local students were given more opportunity than the boarders. Despite this glaring inequity, the school offered the hybrid model, and students took it. I took it. 

Dana Hall is not the only school having to offer unequal experiences to their students. Independent schools all over the country are making the difficult decision to provide options to certain students that they cannot provide to all. Parents and students are pushing for this. My sentiment of “I know this is wrong, but…” is shared by many. As a society, we are struggling to make sacrifices for others. When we are benefiting from an unequal system, we take our benefits instead of working towards a more equitable solution. 

Since March, America has been forced to grapple with the inequalities on which our country is based. From systemic racism to healthcare, the disparity in our country is massive. In the liberal, elite northeast that we at Dana Hall occupy, we have acknowledged these inequities. Yet acknowledging and working to change are two very different things when they begin to require individual sacrifice. Without substantive legislation dictating and assigning sacrifice, it falls to the individuals. And we are failing. Is our response to the inequity in the hybrid system indicative of a dangerous trend? As an individual how do I overcome my nature to do what is best for me, in favor of doing what is right for the community? 

Photo: Even though class under a tent is less than ideal, it’s a less-than-ideal option that isn’t offered to everyone.

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