16 Beacon Students on Family Politics, Values, Social Media Activism, and the College Admissions Scandal: A “Beacon Beat Roundtable”

The Beacon Beat has formally decided to begin hosting “roundtable discussions” between members of both the newspaper staff and the public on specific topical issues. Below is a transcription of a conversation that occurred on March 13th. The transcription has been edited for clarity and grammar. Initially, the topic of discussion was “Family Politics vs. Family Values.”

Participants: Daniel Arturi, Camilla Bauman, Mollie Butler, Linus Coersmeier, Cynthia Enofe, Adrian Flynn, Anne Isman, Phoebe Kamber, Esme Laster, Tali Lebowitsch, Maya Levine, Jude Messler, Ariella Moses, Tali Rosen, Maxine Slater, Sophie Steinberg, Henry Wheeler-Klainbe

Sophie Steinberg (Senior): Today we are having a discussion within The Beacon Beat about family values, politics, and ethics and how they influence your own thinking, decision-making and political views. To begin, my name is Sophie. I’m a senior, and as the moderator of this discussion I will read out questions to get us started. So the first question is: What is the difference between family values and family politics? This could be different opinions or practices your family has.

Jude Messler (Senior): At least in my family, we have a moral code that’s all about honesty and less about policy. So my parents are both independents and neither of them voted for Trump in the last election. So in that sense of “who they vote for,” I don’t really know. I just know what they teach me about how to act, and how to treat people of all different backgrounds. So I think that the way they have taught me to life is basically comes from their own values.

Adrian Flynn (Junior): In the same way, my parents don’t tell me which party or person to support, but through their own values, there is a sense of what kind of morals I should support, stand for, and what I want to see represented in politics. It does lean toward certain parties, but nothing specifically.

Daniel Arturi (Freshman): I think it’s hard to separate family values and family politics because if one of your family traditions, which is apart of family values, is that you go hunting– it’s hard to separate that from family politics.

Maya Levine (Freshman): But I think that your family’s values and how they align with your politics is kind of a “practice what you preach” type of thing. If you support a certain group, and if they live in New York, they’re probably Democrats. They might just be doing that because it’s “the norm” and that’s what you’re expected to do. How your family values align with that shows how much you care about it. So if you support a candidate who is very environmentally-conscious, and then in your own home you compost or have solar panels, it goes to show that how your family aligns with their vote shows how invested they are in that policy.

Linus Coersmeier (Freshman): Both my parents are German and I feel like there’s a stigma around socialism in America in that it has “something to do with Communism” or is unamerican. I wouldn’t say that they’re straying away from the norm, but they have a different viewpoint, which is something I have had access too.

Sophie: In America we have a linear, universal idea of where our political spectrum is. But I think it changes depending on where you are. New York versus the Midwest, but especially in America versus Europe. I think that the translation and blurring of the political lines is good. While my family doesn’t explicitly say that “there are more ways to think about things,” there political differences within a certain umbrella of liberalism is hopefully impressed upon me so that I know that politics are not as polarizing.

Daniel: Diving into the second question (Do you share the same political views as your parents, and do you guys belong to the political group?), my mother is Brazilian and her parents were revolutionaries against the Brazilian military dictatorship and they were full on Communists. Obviously, Brazil is not a communist country but they fought for this ideal society and eventually they got, not a dictatorship, and I would argue that anything that’s not a dictatorship is better, and they got a capitalist society. They grudgingly accepted that, so they raised my mother with their ideals. And she is socialist, which I interpret as the next rung down, and now she’s living here in the United States, which is capitalist, and she’s not campaigning for Communism or Socialism. So I think that as live in a different environment you’re forced to adapt, and it’s easier to adapt than to fight against, you lean towards the political alignment of your surroundings.

Sophie: I even see that at Beacon. Coming into my freshman year, I didn’t know a lot about Feminism. And when I think about my views on sexism and feminism today, that is due in part to my environment, things I was taught, and the people around me. There is such a political awareness in almost every classroom.

Maya: Especially in America, where the parties are so black and white, you are very much dedicated to that. In other countries, in you are raised in a “liberal” household there is more room for differing opinions. In America, you have to be one or the other. I think that it breeds two results: either you hold heartedly believe and agree, passionately with you parents and community (which happens often in New York), or, alternatively, you stray completely from your parent’s/environment’s views because it is so impressed upon you.

Sophie: For those that don’t know, the second question was, do you share the same political views as your parents, and do you guys belong to the political group? I know that I always presume that everyone belongs to the same political group as your parents. Because I live in new York and go to a liberal school, I assume that people’s views are a product of the environment they grew up in. However, I have read stories on the news about people who live in very polarizing environments, or they’re the lone liberal in a very red community, and I think that’s something that we don’t acknowledge who are straying away. I agree with Maya that there is little to no “inbetween.” You either agree or you don’t.

Anne Isman (Senior): Well I disagree with that. Based on what Maya just said, it’s an American ideal to be either one way or the other, so by saying that there is not room for error, it’s only reinforcing that idea of a black and white political atmosphere.

Esme Laster (Junior): Going off of what Sophie said, I think so many people identify with their parents’ politics and that makes sense to me because I feel that people’s political associations often correlates to their socioeconomic status. I think that it makes sense that they align with their parents.

Tali Lebowitsch (Sophomore): To build off, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s also a privilege that comes with being able to choose what political party you side with because not everyone has that freedom. You might have the privilege to chose that because you have benefitted from other values in the past.

Sophie: I also think it’s really hard to disagree with your parents sometimes because you may face extreme backlash or physical consequences.

Camilla Bauman (Sophomore): Going back to the first question about values, I feel like if your family has very ingrained values that you have been around starting from when you were born, it is very hard to disagree with them.

Adrian: However, the ability to critically think is also influenced by your household. Do your parents or guardians endow you with the ability to challenge what is being said? So, even though there is the idea that you can be surrounded by like-minded people, are you the kind of person who has been raised to fall in line with that or to challenge those ideas?

Esme: I don’t really think that’s how critical thinking works. I feel that parents can impress certain values or ways of thinking about things, but I learned to think critically in school and based on the people I surround myself with, like my friends.

Adrian: But critical thinking doesn’t mean to just disagree, it means to not take everything at “face value.”

Esme: Yeah that’s what I was saying.

Cynthia Enofe (Senior): I think that actually goes against what Tali said about privilege and having the simple option to “choose” what you think, whereas some minority groups or families don’t grow up with the idea of “option.” They’re taught, “this is how things work,” and you just have to work within the system. You have to be taken out of your comfort zone and placed in this privileged environment where you have to realize, “Ok, I have a voice regardless of my status or who I am,” so I don’t think that Critical Thinking is the correct term.

Adrian: But realizing that you have a voice stems from how your parents raise you.

Sophie: But I think that Cynthia brings up a good point, some people, even if they’re raised in a “critical thinking household,” are taught to have opinions but that they might not be heard or fully come across to society. I feel like the suppression of vocalizing opinions probably does affect family politics. Maybe your family will discuss it less or value politics less because they don’t get to share their opinions.

Maya: I interpreted what Adrian said as the ability to be raised within a politically-aligned household and still be able to recognize the flaws within that party and the “good” and “bad” that comes with every political group. Like I can still be raised in a Democratic household but still be able to see the flaws within the Democratic system because my parents raised me to think critically about everyone with the lens of “What are they doing right?” and “What are they doing wrong?” I think that it’s an important aspect of our society.

Jude: I don’t think that Cynthia was criticizing Adrian’s point, I think she was saying that we have to recognize that there is a large population that doesn’t have the privilege of “thinking outside the box.” I know from my own experience that if you say something that goes against this mass mentality, the common understanding of a certain issue, you’re wrong. That’s where I’ve felt that some parents do raise you to think critically, but not critically of them.

Cynthia: Shifting back to the first question, I would say that my family and I are inherently grouped into the same political affiliation but I think that the real difference comes with age. My parents are immigrants and they have this mentality that, yes, the American Dream is still possible, whereas I know that that mentality is flawed. They always say that “if you work hard you can do this, “ but I don’t know if you guys heard about the whole college scandal, but people are essentially paying to go to college. And my parents come to me and say, “If you get good grades, you can make it, “ but I’m just like, “Dad, it’s not going to work out.”

Sophie: Quickly before we move on, by a show of hands, how many of you were NOT surprised by the college admissions scandal? I was like, I already knew that.

Anne: It’s a lot of money to pay to a school. They’re paying to get in, they’re paying the tuition it’s ridiculous.

Camilla: With Lori Loughlin and her daughter, Olivia Jade, I assumed that there was some sort of discrepancy going on there, but I didn’t realize that she had paid the proctor to change the daughter’s SAT scores.

Jude: For me, the whole idea of people bribing a someone to get into college was not surprising. For me, what was most surprising, was the video of Olivia Jade talking about how she didn’t even want to go to college. That’s what I found most disgusting because she couldn’t appreciate the level of privilege that she had where she could buy her way into one of the top schools in the country.

Esme: Going off of what Cynthia said about the American Dream, this is not that similar, but I think that your family’s conception of “American Democracy” also affects how you identify politically. I know that some families think about democracy as “playing the system” as opposed to voting for your own beliefs or what’s best for American society, so I think that really influences who we believe in and how we make decisions.

Daniel: Beyond the rejection of people thinking critically or plain disagreeing with people around them, in a community, if I see someone with a “Make America Great Again” hat, I am not going to say, “This is just another member of our community.” I am going to say something. I was once in a Dunkin’ Donuts and my friends and I saw someone in a MAGA hat, and one of my friends was like, “I don’t like your hat,” and this full-grown man starts fully yelling in our face. He even called the cops on us for just saying that we didn’t like his hat and arguing with him. This is not a person that I view as “another member of the country.” And I know that this is a flaw in myself and I have this prejudice against this person, but I have it because I wish to reject him from my community.

Adrian: To get back to your point, Cynthia, that’s a great example of how you were raised with the ability to make your own judgments which is essentially what I’m saying, that you don’t always see things for as they are.

Phoebe Kamber (Junior): I just wanted to say that there are extremes at either end. Living in NYC, most people are very liberal but you can still have conversations where there are disagreements, but I think in certain areas, that’s not the case. I think this goes back to why people have the same political affiliations as their parents because whether or not they live in households where it’s ok to question what’s happening, when you get older, you have the opportunity to form your own opinions, especially in college. My grandparents are Republican and my Mom grew up with similar understandings of politics, but when she grew up and left for college she started getting more exposure to other, new ideas.

Tali L: In response to Daniel’s example, and how we respond to opposite views, I would just like to say that while of course we should be respectful, I think that if someone is a Trump supporter, there are certain assumptions you can make about them, and you should be allowed to judge them based on that. I think that’s okay because if you support what he stands for, there are certain judgements you can make.

Sophie: I also feel that the MAGA hat, in general, is a very polarizing thing. I think that the person who wears that hat knows that they will illicit some sort of reaction, polite or not. I think they know “something’s coming,” and I’m not trying to say that that individual was asking for an argument, but there are certain preconditions that come will political apparel. People can see their views and immediately disagree.

Jude: I also want to address what Daniel said. For me, it’s harder because I come from two very different families. My dad’s family is a very liberal, East Coast, Jewish family and my mom comes from an extended family of Hispanic immigrants from Nicaragua who are heavily Catholic and heavily conservative and so it’s hard for me to make the distinction. I know there are people out there who support policies that are racist and sexist, but at the same time, are helping my grandmother have a home and a place to live. So I have trouble with those conflicting personal and political views when it comes to how to feel about someone. That has influenced me to believe that with Trump supporters, I don’t like their policies and I probably don’t like them either but I’m just not going to attack them.

Tali Rosen (Sophomore): But we do see the hat, and we can infer the policies that they believe in and at Beacon, from my own experience, I know that if I ask a question that doesn’t necessarily fall in line with the all liberal, all-left views all the time, and you just ask the question, then people assume your political beliefs and put you in a certain category. It makes it hard to figure out your political identity and your own political views when you have to chose your words so carefully so that you don’t seem like you’re doing anything wrong.

Maya: Just going back to Jude’s comment about religious experiences shaping politics, I feel that it’s really difficult because you can’t deny someone their personal experiences, but you can disagree with their politics. For example, my grandmother, her mother and her family were in the Holocaust and she had family that died. So whenever she travels, she will go to the Jewish memorial or museum there. And because of that, she harbors some very anti-Palestinian and therefore, anti-Muslim sentiments because she feels so strongly that it’s the Jewish people’s right to have a state. I can’t deny her personal experience or everything that went wrong in the Holocaust, which are awful things, but at the same time she will make racist comments when we are in public regarding the Muslim people around us, and I can’t handle that. You can’t deny people their experiences but at the same time, you’re allowed to disagree.

Cynthia: Going off of that and the experiences people are sharing about coming into contact with the opposing party, I feel that we should also take into account the large and increasing population of individuals who chose to not participate in politics at all. They just don’t vote anymore because they’re too afraid to associate with one political party and to be “this or that” because they don’t want that identity.

Henry Wheeler-Klainbe (Freshman): I wanted to go back to question 2 and the story of Daniel’s grandparents in Brazil and their adapting views, because I think it’s interesting how views pass down through generations. On the Jewish side of the family, my grandmother was a counselor at the sleepaway I currently go to, and my mom went to my camp, and the camp is very socialist. We learn about socialism and obviously the camp has impacted my life and my political views and it’s generational.

Linus: Because my parents are German, and all my family is pretty much German, I feel like I have this privilege and ignorance of not knowing what it’s really like to be living in a government or society that’s awful and is doing awful things and is broken, and you can argue that it’s like that here in America, but obviously not like the extent of the Holocaust in Germany. For that reason, when I’m having a discussion with my parents or a debate, a lot of the times I reach the conclusion that I don’t want to argue for the sake of arguing. At the same time, having parents whose relatives were in a society that did such horrible things, it does matter that you have your own voice and are involved in politics, even if I feel that I can’t change anything, or that nothing bad is going to happen, but it does and it has happened and it can happen again.

Sophie: About the arguing for the sake of arguing, whenever I call out my mom about certain micro-aggressive things, because she may be ignorant to certain things due to her age or where she grew up, she will listen to a certain extent and maybe say, “Ok, I get it, whatever,” but I know she doesn’t fully understand what I’m saying or where I’m coming from. It’s something I have to work on when it comes to following up with “No, you don’t understand” or “You should care about this” but it’s hard because they’re your parents and you don’t want to piss them off. At the same time, I think your parents often assume that you’re all on the same page and get annoyed about any discrepancies.

Cynthia: This makes me wonder about when we’re older and when we have kids like, how would you react or would you be open to the fact that your kid has different political views? What if your kid came out saying, “I’m a Trump supporter” or “I’m a Hillary supporter,” how would you react? I feel like we would all have a burning rage towards that.

Henry: Adding onto Sophie, sometimes, if I don’t agree with something my mom says, she will be dismissive because I’m a child, and she thinks that I don’t understand as much as she does and I might not, but obviously I understand some things that she doesn’t.

Maxine Slater (Senior): Adding on, I think that there’s also a huge generational distinction in the sense that the trauma that my parents have witnessed, not their own trauma, but the trauma of others has affected their political thinking. I have older parents and they grew up going to segregated schools, and so racism was a much more blatant thing than it is today, so they can’t understand concepts like micro-aggressions or more covert forms of oppression. So I think that trying to connect those traumas, and relate those experiences to them, is something that I’ve had to do and tried to do in most conversations about politics.

Anne: In terms of the political conversations I have with my parents, I respect my parents and I know that both of them are smarter than I am because they’re more well-read about these things. When I was younger and had opinions, I always had to back it up with evidence, it was never an empty statement and in a way, it’s nice to have someone challenge you even if they agree with you. The practice of supporting an argument with something meaningful and true has helped me know when to speak up about my views or when to refrain and wait for others to speak before talking.

Jude: In my relationship with my parents, there’s more of a generational divide. They still have some respect or faith in the system or the American institution and if things are wrong, they believe it will be fixed.

Tali R: My dad, especially after I started going to Beacon, has been coming to me with the other side, even if he disagrees with it, because he feels that it’s important. Even the fact that we have to read the New York Times every night, says something. He also used to work in journalism so he encourages me to pay attention to how it’s covered and knowing when to ask questions has been helpful.

Daniel: I also think that it’s important to acknowledge that while all of these discussions our important, within our communities or our families, at least with my family, there are points where you just let it go and it’s a conversation without deep questions and moral dilemmas. If you think like that all the time it’s tiring. We can’t have round table discussions all the time.

Anne: At the end of the day, people’s political views and opinions are really no one else’s business. I mean, you can say “Oh I love Hillary” or “I think Climate Change is important” but it doesn’t really matter unless you act on it. By saying your opinion all the time, and especially at Beacon, shoving it down people’s throat, it doesn’t matter unless there’s action.

Maxine: I somewhat disagree with that. Again, the ability to be apolitical is also a privilege by virtue of gender, race, or location. Sometimes their very being is a political matter and it isn’t a choice.

Anne: I agree with that as well.

Esme: I was just going to comment on what Anne was saying, because I feel like the publicization of people’s opinions on social media or the idea that our political opinions are our own business has really changed.

Sophie: I think that posting about politics on social media is really tricky. I am someone who does post about my views, but sometimes I face criticism online as a result. One good example is that yesterday, in reference to the college admissions scandal, I posted something about how privileged people use their privilege to push mediocracy forward. One example is Jared Kushner. He went Harvard but was only admitted after his Dad made a $2.5 million dollar donation and a lot of reports claim that his high school grades were not that great or “Harvard worthy.” And so I reposted a tweet about how many poor people and POC will work extra hard, most of the time, not getting the results they want because of their financial decisions. And on Instagram I captioned this with “@ people who ED.” Then someone swiped up and said, “Yes I agree, but you can’t get mad at people for doing Early Decision. If they have that privilege, they should use it.” And my argument to that would be that the whole system is messed up and Early Decision’s very existence is classist and undermines the process by excluding the poor. However, I ended up taking it down, even if I didn’t really want to, because I questioned whether or not I should even be posting this in the first place, which is something I have to think about. If I can’t handle people disagreeing with me, should I even be posting at all? Or should I respect people’s wishes?

Ariella Moses (Sophomore): I think it’s also interesting to take into account how a singular post can only contain a  certain amount of information, and whatever that information is, can be biased or geared towards one lens, and posting it influences the notion that to share your views on social media is action enough, and that’s the downside to it.

Sophie: I agree, it’s totally not enough.

Maxine: I think social media can give a false sense of gratification. People can use a hashtag to promote a political message and then they think they’re apart of a movement.

Sophie: It’s an interesting dichotomy. You get so much information from your phone but sharing your views on social media, it’s fake. It’s not something you would say in real life. In real life, it has little to no impact most times.

Jude: I also feel like a lot of people who march in the Women’s March or Climate March, they’re great, but like what do these people do after? After it’s over, how many people go home and take action? The percentage is probably very low.

Camilla: Going back to the social media thing, I feel like a lot of people use it to give the impression that they’re woke or whatever but after that it’s like, what are you doing? Posting about it is not doing anything. I mean, it’s good that you went but what are you actually doing to enact change?

Cynthia: I agree with that. I feel like a lot of people, especially at Beacon, well it’s not your fault. But we live in a capitalist society so naturally we do things for the college resume. We want to get involved in these things like the Women’s March to look impressive on paper. But it’s like, people are making real differences, it’s about the gratification and feeling like you’re contributing to change.

Ariella: To add on, it gets even more problematic when people engage in the idea that they’re doing something for their own status as if it will make people view them in a certain way which further feeds into the values that the people who DO care are trying to counteract with action. It takes the action and the activism further back. It contributes to a negative cycle.

Maxine: That’s actually often referred to as “Slacktivism,” which is really interesting and there was recently an article about it.

Mollie Butler (Senior): I agree in the sense that we are just doing these marches and nothing is really happening after the fact and I think that we live in an extremely liberal bubble. But if we are just discussing it or going to the movement, nothing is going to happen. We have learned within in our society that change is really hard and not always possible. A lot of the times, especially with extended family, they will discourage me or my cousins from doing anything because we’re “younger and don’t know anything.” I think growing up with that kind of mentality has suppressed certain values because my family impresses the idea that I don’t know anything about the world and I haven’t been “out there.”

Daniel: Personally, I think that we are all in the same place on the “ladder of political influence,” and I would say that it’s a pretty low rung. We all have little to no influence on how laws are voted on, but what we do have influence on is social media presence (although everyone loves to say that it does nothing and is probably not super effective) and marching. And it’s not like “if 50,000 people come out to march today, then the law will be change,” but it’s all we can do and I don’t think it’s fair to say that marching and protesting in the streets is useless. It’s unfair to all the people that have marched in American history and around the world. It does make a difference and it does help and honestly, it’s all we can do. We can write articles about it or start groups but those are the limits we have as the youth and as normal citizens who don’t have any political power.

Sophie: I agree with you Daniel and while I will say that I have been at marches and movements where there is a lot of inaction, and I do believe that there is such a thing as ineffective marching, but we cannot discredit the success that it has had. The mere presence of a march or of a strike can have so much impact on a school or people who hear about. We are lucky that our school supports us when we walk out, but a lot of the time that is all we can do. Personally, I try and write about things and “practice what I preach” but it is also hard to go beyond that. I can’t take off from school to lobby and there are sometimes when marches and posting are ineffective or not the best method of activism, but they’re often the only things we can do.

Cynthia: Personally, I’m not trying to disagree with you guys. To a certain degree, I do believe that marches are somewhat effective in achieving your goals. But I do feel that if you want real change, and you really truly want real change, it comes with sacrifice. And if you’re not willing to sacrifice your school, your education, miss a test, go out in a rain, march everyday, miss a week of day. Real change comes with sacrifice. Maybe it means sacrificing your privilege or whatever that means. It’s doing more than doing a couple of marches, walking out one day, or writing about it online to feel better about your white guilt, but actually doing and sacrificing something.

Daniel: Have you ever gone for a week in the rain marching?

Cynthia: I’m just saying that if you truly care about change in our society you will make those sacrifices. I’m not trying to discredit you.

Ariella: Similar to the point that was just made, I’m remembering last year, before the walkout, there were people in my Biology class that were frustrated that the teacher wasn’t excusing them from missing the test. But that in itself made me upset because the whole point of a walkout is that you are sacrificing something, and if you can’t realize that the only way to work against our society and its flaws, you have to go against the institution that you are told to succumb to.

Jude: I agree with what Cynthia was saying. I think that two hours on a Friday marching from Columbus Circle to Central Park South doesn’t mean anything unless you stick with it. I think you can stick with it by continuing to march, but it needs to be a continuous thing, not a one time thing. It’s not just once a year. How many people at those marches do you think participate in some form of activism every week?

Tali R: I’m not sexist but I think that the Women’s March is flawed in the way that they run things, even in the way that their website is set up. If you look at what they stand for and their goals, there are too many things. It’s trying to end all suffering ever and that is a goal, but it’s not one that is necessarily solved by one Women’s March once a year. They shouldn’t try and label themselves as the solution. There’s also anti-semitism going on inside the group and as a Jewish person, that is something I deal with, but it’s not a solution for change. It’s a statement that garners attention and people, but doesn’t do anything.

Esme: I was just going to say that marching occasionally doesn’t make much change, but the idea of organizing and having a goal for change is really empowering and should motivate more change than it does, but I think those ideas are really important.

Linus: I think that marching does something. Politicians can see what’s happening and what the people care about, and if they’re not corrupt which a lot are or too many are, then they will care because it is a democracy and they will want to help and make legislation according to the people. I don’t think that you shouldn’t make sacrifices and if you have the opportunity to march, you should. Essentially, the most power an average American has is voting, where you go to a voting station and if there’s a long line that sucks but it’s one day. It’s not like you have to cut off your arm to vote. We live in a flawed society, but we don’t live in an anarchy so I don’t think we should degrade the good things that people are doing.

Jude: Again, I know that this a democracy, but people marching doesn’t affect the decisions or the outlooks of Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell and at the end of the day, while voting is important, it doesn’t always have the power to change everything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s