The Story of the Sit-In

By Esme Laster

Photos by Jeremy Weine

“I’ve never felt connected to people in this school the way I do now,” said a student at Beacon High School, Gabriela Gomez about Monday’s momentous student-led sit-in. The sit-in, organized by a brand new student coalition, Beacon United Unions (BUU), called upon the administration to better advocate for minority students after recent events brought to light an unsettling reality. 

Last week before Winter break, a conversation was overheard in the college office in which a student used hateful words to comment on students who had recently been accepted to schools through the QuestBridge program and Posse Foundation. Questbridge and Posse are non-profit organizations that allows high schoolers to achieve their desired college experience through affordable means. 

This student’s divisive comments were soon relayed through word-of-mouth and social media to the larger student body. A sea of anger, hurt, and shame quickly washed upon seniors and freshman alike. “I felt so isolated,” said Gabriela about how the comments affected her. The emotional heat around this issue could be felt in every corner of Beacon in the days following the incident; students had urgent questions, opinions, and feelings, many of which were expressed through social media. Through instagram stories and posts, arguments and apologies emerged, but soon enough, so did a plan.  

After a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting in which recent events were discussed, students began to organize. Members of BSU reached out to the leaderships of other Beacon student unions. It was soon decided that BSU would hold a meeting in room 506 open to all Beacon students interested in taking action against what was beginning to feel like an administrative crisis. Orchestrators of the highly anticipated meeting named their snapchat group chat “506.”

It was official.

Word of the meeting spread rapidly on social media and it quickly became clear to organizers that room 506 wouldn’t hold all who desired to come. The meeting was moved to the cafeteria where, that friday at 2:20, over one hundred students rushed to fill every last inch of open space. Attendees of friday’s assembly were eager to hear the voices behind the plan. To Gabriela, “It became clear how distraught and moved the student body was.” According to her, leaders of friday’s assembly left feeling “stressed, unmotivated, and uninspired.” Chaos reigned from students and a teacher both of whom offered conflicting ideas for next steps.

Later that night a new plan had formed along with a new form of student leadership. The Beacon United Unions took charge in informing student that those who were willing would participate in a sit-in that coming monday. In a clarifying Instagram post, “beacon united unions” wrote, “It is a sit-in, not a boycott. Please come to school by 8 AM on monday dressed in all black!” 

As excitement and even apprehension amongst some built throughout the weekend, new members of BUU worked tirelessly to bring their plan to fruition. “It was a lot of 3 am type of nights,” Gabriela explained about the days leading up to the sit-in. During these days, members of the BUU collaborated to form a list of demands. The demands went as follows: that beacon issue an apology to students, staff and parents, that college counselors involved in the incident be investigated by the Department of Education, that past incidents of discriminatory behavior also be investigated, and that workshops on culturally responsive education and implicit biases be mandated for Beacon staff and students. The BUU’s demands also called for more long-term change, including a transformed hiring process that brings in more staff of color and that meetings between the administration and the BUU take place on a monthly basis to ensure continued support from the administration.

As students entered the building monday morning, leaders of BUU handed out colored rubber bands to students, indicating which floor to go to. Throughout the day, various student unions including African Student Association, Asian Student Union, Latinx Student Union, Jewish Student Association, Black Student Union, and Muslim Student Union circulated throughout the building from the cellar to the 6th floor. Each student union facilitated racial discussions with students or taught lessons of their choice with sit-in attendees. For example, Asian Student Union asked students to name as many Asian countries as they could within a specific time frame. This exercise along with other activities led by student unions were intended to incite conversations students often don’t have. 

Half way through the day, a member of BUU made a final announcement: BUU’s demands had been met by the administration. In the weeks and months following the sit-in, the BUU is focused on ensuring that their demands are adequately met by college counselors and the administration.

Gun Violence in Entertainment Media: How on the Screen Translates off the Screen

By Esme Laster

After 27 students and teachers were gunned down at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, CT in 2012, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America pledged to curb violence in society. “Those of us in the motion picture and television industry want to do our part to help America heal,” Christopher Dodd said.

Since Dodd spoke 7 years ago, there have been 2,173 mass shootings throughout the U.S. and a growing population of disheartened citizens have become wary of the entertainment industry as gun violence’s greatest perpetuator. Researchers, parents and even politicians blamed the MPAA for misleading America’s youth on the dangers of gun violence. 

The MPAA, the self proclaimed “voice of the film and television industry,” devises a national rating system for film and television designed to protect children.

The Parents Television Council (PTC) recently asked the government to reevaluate the rating system of all entertainment media, claiming the TV content rating system can be “outright deceptive.” The Federal Communications Commission asked a TV monitoring board to consider the accuracy of television’s content rating system.  

Researchers also complain about the entertainment industry’s flawed rating system. “Showing all the violence in a sanitized form displays the behavior in a way that makes it seem less harmful,” says Daniel Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Romer is especially concerned about how PG-13 content is rated. Take PG-13 rated movies “Skyfall” (2012), or “Jack Reacher” (2012). In both of these blockbuster films, guns harm characters, yet, the blood and gore that would typically follow a gunshot is conspicuously concealed from viewers’ eyes. This sanitized footage “is making the use of violence seem justified,” Romer concluded in a 2018 study. 

Distorted violence can severely harm children, says Brad Bushman a communication professor at Ohio State University. In his 2019 study of 220 children aged 8-12, Bushman found that the children who played violent video games were more likely to touch and hold longer a real handgun as opposed to children who played non-violent video games. 

This misguided portrayal of gun violence can be especially harmful when targeted to a specific demographic. In 1999, the Federal Trade Commission’s review of the entertainment industry found that 80% of its 44 violent movies surveyed were targeted to children under 17. The report also uncovered that 70% of the 118 video games reviewed were targeted primarily to males aged 12-17. 

Recently, Romer and Bushman’s groundbreaking social psychological findings were brought to the national stage. Featured in the FCC’s 2019 report on the TV ratings system, the Romer and Bushman’s work called for a radical restructuring of how entertainment media is marketed to the youth. 

Now, Romer and Bushman want America to adopt the Netherland’s content rating system. Called Kijkwijzer, the system consolidates TV, movies, and videogames and assigns specific ages to various content. It also uses symbols to indicate what makes the content inappropriate for certain ages. Content would also be delegated by child development experts rather than corporate executives under Kijkwijzer.

Regulating content as strictly as Kijkwijzer entails could encroach upon the constitution. The first amendment protects citizens’ right to freedom of speech or expression and entertainment can be interpreted as a form of expression. So the government can only do so much to regulate it. The Supreme Court struck down a California law in 2011 that required violent or sexually explicit video game content to be labeled “18.” Video games were held as a “means of expression” by the court.

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-Klainberg

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.

The Need To Know: What Do You Want To Be?

By Esme Laster

As teenagers on the precipice of dramatic change, being an upperclassman is a series of unrelenting, and seemingly unanswerable questions: What colleges are you considering? Do you know what you want to study? And the worst of them all: do you know what you want to be? It’s hard to answer these questions honestly, when prompted by a next-door neighbor or an estranged family friend, while one is still embroiled in the social, academic happenings of the now. Whether you’ve known you wanted to be an astrophysicist from the ripe age of 10 like Junior at Laguardia High School, Izzy Lapidus, or merely known that you don’t want to be anything close to an astrophysicist, like myself, the impending “need to know” is an unavoidable aspect of adolescence. However, is this inevitability a mere product of our capitalist society, mobilizing us into economic units rather than critical thinkers? Does this need to know diminish our integrity to explore the limits of our education, or does it shape us into impassioned, productive adults?

While many adolescents are frightened by the prospect of choosing a career path, Junior Izzy Lapidus has met this prospect with surprising ease. Izzy has known since age 10 that she wants to be an astrophysicist or possibly a professor of astrophysics, as she doesn’t have “all the logistics figured out yet.” Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but wonder if having such long endured interest in one subject has deterred Izzy from other prospective spheres of interest. In response to my inquiring, Izzy told me she “definitely puts more focus on subjects that directly relate to my [her] interests.” More specifically, after her sophomore year of high school Izzy decided to take AP Computer Science instead of AP French. In her words: “French is just not a subject I am passionate about, and so I deemed it unnecessary to take.” Izzy’s experience of dropping a class that doesn’t complement her personal interests is somewhat common ground amongst upperclassmen, who, after reaching a required amount of credits in a certain class have the ability to drop that class. For Izzy, her career drivenness enabled her to mediate between two equally important subjects. This ability to self-select areas of study that correlate to one’s chosen career requisites is integral in navigating the encroaching world of college, where areas of study are seemingly infinite.

While it’s clear that the “need to know” what to do in life is deeply conditioned into the minds of most adolescents, Izzy’s astrophysics aspirations grew more simply from emotion and passion. Perhaps imposing “need to know” on young adults gives adolescents a heightened sense of a purpose throughout their education.

Beacon Physics teacher of 2 years, Mr.Wight, finds this “need to know” both favorable and unfavorable. “On one hand,” Mr. Wight says, “it is an extremely valuable skill to be able to set a long term goal and execute appropriate short term goals to help you reach that goal.” However, Mr. Wight acknowledges that “not all high school students are confident in what career they’d like to pursue,” and “nor should they be!” Wight’s principal doctrine in regard to choosing a career is in accordance with the popular “life is about the journey, not the destination.” He believes, in choosing a career, “the most valuable learning comes from the process and not the end result.” Therefore, Mr. Wight advises students to allow the process to guide them, as opposed to them guiding the process by “working, relentlessly and tirelessly, to ‘achieve’ a goal and make it to a predetermined destination.” As someone who’s endured the entirety of this journey and several years of its destination, Mr. Wight’s advice should not be taken lightly as students embark on this journey.

Crucially, Mr. Wight mentioned that it is likely Beacon students “will change careers several times” throughout their lifetime. As confirmed by the United States Department of Labor, members of Generation Z are expected to change careers 3 to 7 times. These predicted changes force us to reevaluate the assumption that one eternal and unconditional career path awaits us at the tail end of our education. Perhaps, our idea of what awaits is simply outdated. Forbes Magazine also anticipates the unconventional from Generation Z, as it is predicted only 15% of those individuals will choose financial security over job satisfaction. While this statement is deeply dependent on one’s current state of financial security, this foreseeable radicalism in Generation Z’s approach towards the working world is exciting. Additionally, the ever changing state of the economy suggests that today’s adolescents can’t rely on an outdated assumptions or ideals, we can only wait and see.

The Simplification of Social Media


By Esme Laster

Have you ever spent unintentionally long spans of time browsing through social media? It goes as follows: You find that spot on your couch after an entire day of lugging around your 50 pound backpack and immediately slip into your usual collapsed hunch that starts off comfortable and becomes progressively crippling. Your body sinks deeper into the soft pills of fabric as you mindlessly thumb through countless images. Your time here grows longer and longer, you forget about your homework, about your dad in the next room, and as he walks towards you to ask how school was, you look up and realize the 30 minutes that just passed.

For many teens this experience is familiar, and this familiarity is frightening. Adolescence is a pivotal period of time where tangled, confused emotions form something phenomenal and concrete: ourselves. Social media disrupts this process of forming of self that is meant to occur during adolescence.

Further, social media is intended to exist in the mind of its user as something personal. Therefore, social media users choose to personalize and tailor their social media profiles to what they believe to be the embodiment of themselves, or often times, what they wish to be the embodiment of themselves. This seems like an impossible task, as the complexity of an individual cannot be captured through a collection of photographs and videos. However, this is not the task the geniuses behind Instagram and Facebook are handing to us. We are more practically given the task of conveying a general image of ourselves, rather than conveying individuality, we are told to convey conventionality. Presenting teenagers with the opportunity to self-curate or self-invent an online identity becomes dangerous when this online identity overrides one’s true, human identity.  

As these small moments of “social media binging” accompanied by an afternoon snack and a glass of water become more frequent and more casual, and as scrolling becomes more habitual, our online identity becomes larger than the gleam behind a 4 inch screen, it becomes an obsession.

A prime example of this obsession with our online identities is the popularization of the “selfie”. While there are many variations of the selfie, selfies are most commonly used as a way to present ourselves as attractive. The selfie puts a face behind a username, but this face can easily be a mask. Just as it is easy to create a false image of ourselves through our social media profiles, it is easy to manipulate how one truly looks with a single photo in order to appear conventionally beautiful. This need to establish ourselves as beautiful to accredit our online identities, speaks more broadly to America’s obsession with beauty.

American culture has always orbited around some conventional idea of beauty. Most americans associate a certain face, or name with this idea of American beauty, however, it is often the mass representation of this face, or rather, what is a corporately-curated image of beauty, that rigs the minds of many Americans. It is the mass-deliverance of these images that make American people so susceptible to believing that beauty is a single image, or can even be captured in one image. These images of beauty are tactically curated, and tailored to be believed, these images are more than a long blonde woman with creamy skin and an impossibly straight nose, these images are powerful American commodities: they are bought by the American people, and they are sold to the American people.

Social media functions similarly in that social media allows us to portray a single image of ourselves. Even worse, social media makes us believe that our identities can be expressed through one image, or a collection of images. Social media simplifies and minimizes our individuality, and at a time where individuality is being formed, social media can be catastrophic. So, the next time you feel yourself sinking into the seams of your sofa and aimlessly scrolling through images, break the habit: look up at the ceiling, remember the time, and sit up straight.

Students Engage in Open Conversation at Beacon’s Sexual Assault Awareness Event

By Esme Laster

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On April 27th, 2018, a small group of Beacon students gathered in the Black Box theatre to tackle a subject many teens struggle to confront in real life yet are increasingly exposed to online: sexual assault. With the recent revelations of sexual assault scandals in Hollywood and beyond, conversation about sexual assault has come to dominate the public sphere, bringing to light diverging perspectives on the #metoo movement—often through social media. While conversation alone can be significant, talking about sexual assault online can also enable bystanding. This is not to say that bystanders aren’t absorbing new information about sexual assault; however, only speaking about or recognizing the issue when it’s on a screen is not truly contributing to the conversation, a problem Beacon’s latest sexual assault awareness event sought to remedy.

It took initiative for Beacon students to show up to the optional assembly last month, and even more initiative for them to participate—which most attendees did. While students should be credited for being or wanting to be active members of an urgent discussion, the space itself was largely responsible for igniting such vibrant back and forth. Alivia Curl, Beacon’s Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) Coordinator, in-school therapist, and the organizer of Friday’s event, spoke to me about the importance of establishing a secure and intimate atmosphere when fostering dialogue on sexual assault. For Curl, this means “creating a space where everyone feels comfortable and confident speaking up.” She believes that establishing a supportive and safe environment is crucial when discussing uncomfortable or potentially “triggering” subjects.

It seems that Curl’s intentions of creating a comfortable atmosphere for Friday’s event were well-received by its attendees. Beacon Junior Nora de Rege noticed that “people seemed really engaged” and “were asking questions that seemed personal and genuine.” These questions, mostly hypothetical, largely dealt with the ambiguity of verbal and nonverbal consent. Can a sexual act be classified as assault if the person assaulted consented initially but afterwards felt uncomfortable about it? What if two people who had sex were both below the age of consent? What if a sexual partner was under the influence?

These questions were answered by guest speaker Doreen Lesane, author of Thriver: My Story to Tell. Lesane advocated for survivors–or as she would call them, “thrivers”–of domestic violence. When asked how she felt about students’ response to the assembly, Lesane remarked that she “was glad that the male students were very vocal and asked a lot of questions.” She strongly believes that young boys should be participating in the discussion around sexual assault and actively fighting against the toxic culture of patriarchy. In fact, Lesane was impressed by how many male Beacon students participated, straying from the norm: “they weren’t embarrassed, they were eager.”

Together, Curl and Lesane succeeded in opening up an honest conversation about sex, sexual assault, and consent between Beacon students, many of whom may struggle to find the space for such conversation in their daily lives. As Lesane said, in this ever-evolving discussion about sexual assault, young people must remember that “their voice matters, and their choice matters too.”

Even Outspoken Students Struggle to Listen in English Class

By Esme Laster

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For most students, the importance of listening has been tactfully drilled into our minds by teachers, administrators, parents, and even some deceptively instructional television series. In kindergarten, you begin to hear catchy phrases you never forget instructing you to put on your listening caps, and to stop, look and listen–to which you respond “okay!” with a blind enthusiasm so that you can earn points on the leaderboard or win over your teacher. The message of these idioms seems to follow you throughout elementary and middle school as you face increasingly difficult academics and listening becomes a more necessary skill. By high school, listening should be second nature to us. Yet we still struggle to listen to each other.

It’s puzzling that a lack of listening becomes apparent in the class that is theoretically sustained by students’ ability to listen to one another. English class is based on sharing thoughts, questions, and analysis. It relies on discussion, or as Beacon English teacher Liz Kaufman puts it, on “building off of what the other person has said and through [that] deepening your understanding of the topic” at hand.

However, some students view English class an “echo chamber” rather than a truly interconnected experience. Why? Is it the innate competitive nature of Beacon students that inhibits us from listening and “building off” of one another? Or do we tend to think that it is more necessary to listen to a teacher or figure of authority rather than an equal, such as a peer? Or maybe, do we tune out for others because we suspect that we are not truly being heard ourselves?

It is no secret that Beacon students are an impressive show of NYC high schoolers, which generates both a highly competitive and a highly stimulating academic atmosphere. It seems English class is where these two characteristics collide since English class requires students to curate original and sometimes abstract thoughts. Unlike other courses such as Math, Science, or even History, there is rarely an objective or fact-based way to participate in an English discussion. It is this uncertainty that can shift the classroom dynamic to a more competitive and intimidating one.

Beacon student Helena Milburn believes that “people tend to judge how smart someone is based more on how they speak or how confident they are when they speak, rather than by…what they’re actually saying.” Judgment by peers is always intimidating. However, judgment by peers in English class can feel especially personal. Sophomore Simone Kyle adds that English is “the most emotional class. It’s about life–what you say in English is about the way you perceive human nature.”

Therefore, it makes sense that students struggle building off of one another or making entirely authentic contributions to class discussions since it can feel like there is more emphasis on presentation than on substance. Whether this is a result of needing to “sound smart” or of feeling vulnerable and judged, this phenomenon can hinder the enjoyment and participation of Beacon students in English.

Although this may sound inevitable, there are ways to change the English class dynamic–specifically, by establishing trust. This is one of Ms. Kaufman’s primary classroom goals. She’s “invested in creating an environment where students trust [her] and trust each other.” Establishing trust among students and faculty enables us to share our ideas honestly, take interest in each other’s insights, and truly listen to one another.

Republicans Speak Out: The Political Imbalance at Beacon

By Esme Laster

It is no secret that Beacon fosters an environment of political awareness and conversation. Most students experience this through the frenzied debates in History, the copious social justice clubs, and the heavily politicized nature of daily class discussions. In this atmosphere, there emerges a vast political imbalance: Republicans and conservatives are overwhelmingly outnumbered by Democrats and liberals. Amongst Beacon’s proud culture of political discussion and consciousness, the minority political sects go surprisingly unrecognized, leading those Beacon students on the right end of the political spectrum feeling marginalized and voiceless.

Widely known for being vocal about her “constitutionalist” beliefs, sophomore Morgan Ames notes how Beacon’s social and political atmospheres intersect: “There’s a reputation that comes along with me being a Republican at a liberal school that can cause a lot of misconceptions and negative perceptions.” This is telling of the alienation that Beacon’s political climate can cause, as one can acquire a negative “reputation” for stating how one identifies on a political spectrum. This also demonstrates how intertwined one’s social standing is with their political identity. Despite the stigma that is tied to sharing unpopular beliefs, Morgan states, “My views are my views and no one has to agree with them, but they cannot stop them from being heard.”

Independent and “right of center” Malachy was eager to join this rare conversation. When asked how liberal Beacon students respond to his sharing his beliefs, Malachy said that they tend to be politically close-minded and “hard to have conversations with.” This is surprising, being that Beacon students are theoretically bred to have diplomatic political conversations and learn from opposing beliefs. However, Malachy noted that many of the more abrasive responses he receives transpire outside of the classroom, whereas in a classroom setting, “debates are always well managed, respectful and informative.” It seems that these teachings of conciliatory debate do not translate outside Beacon’s walls.

Both interviewees agreed that Republicans are not given as large a platform as liberals at Beacon are. The lack of representation is largely caused by an inability to organize because there are so few Republicans and, according to the interviewees, because many Republicans are “scared” to voice their political opinions. Malachy attempted to organize a Young Republicans club, as there is an active Young Democrats club, but he “couldn’t even get fifteen conservatives” to join.

Undoubtedly, Beacon’s political atmosphere is flawed and needs to be balanced for the left, the right, and those in between. However, in New York City, commonly known as a “liberal bubble,” an imbalance between liberals and conservatives is somewhat inevitable, albeit not healthy. In today’s political climate, bipartisan conversation is crucial. Beacon is no exception.

Sophomores Struggle to Determine their Community Service

By Esme Laster

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Since the start of the new school year, the search for a fulfilling community service experience has dominated the minds of Beacon’s 10th graders. Although very few sophomores have begun completing their community service requirements, let alone chosen a service organization among the many named in Advisory or mentioned by friends, the weight of the task is felt daily. Many students have expressed concerns about not having time for a 2-3 hour-long weekly obligation and about choosing a well-suited form of service. Juniors and seniors who have experienced the process advise sophomores to choose a field of service that they find both stimulating and challenging at an organization that is compatible with students’ limitations.

However, it is no easy task to figure out what type of service one wants to do and where one wants to pursue this. In fact, this is the primary stressor for many Beacon 10th graders. Sophomore Lola Blackman, when expressing her thoughts on the chaotic process of choosing a community service option, was “overwhelmed by the pressure of choosing the right thing” and hadn’t even begun thinking about what she truly wanted to do. Community service is intended to be an enriching learning experience, yet for many sophomores, it feels like a chore. Hopefully, for future classes at Beacon, the stigma surrounding community service will change and the topic can be approached as an exciting social opportunity.