Op-Ed Contest Winner #5
By Skye Tarshis
During my two years at Beacon, I have born witness to a series of incidents of intolerance; I believe that the effort on the part of the administration and the student body to combat the underlying issues that inspired these instances has been fruitless. In a school with students who claim to be invested in social justice, Beacon students often neglect to take a close look at the issues that plague our student body.
Personally, I am disturbed by Beacon’s passivity in the face of injustice. In an environment like Beacon, non-Black students may say the N-word in an English class without repercussion. In an environment like Beacon, students may reduce the accomplishments of Asian students and use racial slurs freely. In an environment like Beacon, students may harass each other in the halls. The simple act of silent punishment is not enough. These displays of intolerance reflect a larger issue: many students do not have an understanding of how systemic injustices impact the lives of their peers, nor do they have an understanding of how their actions affect others.
However, there have been many attempts to start a conversation about relevant issues at Beacon. It’s true that the administration has instituted a sparse amount of advisory assignments that discuss microaggressions, as well as sexual assault. However, these discussions are often led by the staff and do not necessarily give students the voice that they need. Moreover, I recognize that the student government has organized optional meetings for such discussions. I attended a Town Hall meeting about inclusiveness last year, where I heard about some of the most inspiring and disappointing aspects of Beacon. Yet, since this meeting was optional, many less socially-aware students who needed to hear these thoughts were not present.
Students who deliver such inspiring sentiments deserve a larger platform to discuss their experiences. Furthermore, students who are unaware of the experiences of their marginalized peers should find it within themselves to understand existences that are unfamiliar to them.
Beacon needs to provide opportunities for students to discuss the issues by which they are impacted. At my old school, Manhattan Country School, the administration focused heavily on ensuring that each grade consisted of a diverse student population (racially, religiously, and socioeconomically diverse) that developed a sociopolitical consciousness both within our community and outside. One of the most significant contributors to the cohesiveness of our student body was our weekly community meetings, during which we discussed the concerns of students and teachers. These meetings provided students with a greater understanding of their peers and how their actions affected them. Hearing the concerns of my peers and being able to discuss those of my own instilled a sense of compassion within me, and I believe my middle school classmates would say the same. I believe that the institution of a similar, mandatory model would be an effective way to discuss Beacon’s toxicities in an impactful manner.
Because MCS community meetings were designed for a small population, Beacon community assemblies would have to be structured differently to accommodate for its many students. In theory, the Student Government would come up with a list of relevant issues that concern students. Throughout the days leading up to the meeting, students could sign up to share their thoughts regarding the issue at hand. The meetings would occur once a month on a Friday during each grade’s advisory period. The grades would be mixed in order to expose students to the perspectives of peers that they may not speak to often. Thus, two meetings would occur per advisory period. The advisories signed up for that day would either report to the gym or the auditorium. Before the meeting, students who choose to will have signed up to discuss their thoughts regarding the theme of the meeting.
I emphasize the necessity of mandatory meetings because optional meetings attract a certain type of student. Often, the individuals who attend optional, organized meetings are students who have already developed a passion for recognizing Beacon’s shortcomings and finding ways to create an atmosphere that promotes understanding and awareness. Meanwhile, other students can willfully extract themselves from sensitive discussions to avoid the possibility of holding themselves accountable for the privilege that they exert.
Mandatory meetings that are guided by students would not only enable students to express their thoughts and feelings about social issues, but they would also allow students who feel largely unaffected by these issues to develop a sense of empathy for their fellow students. This would ultimately foster a greater sense of camaraderie.
Beacon’s shortcomings should not be swept under the rug. Without student-led, open acknowledgement of our flaws, marginalized students will continue to feel voiceless.