This community prides itself on being comprised of individuals who are different from each other by race, nationality, socio-economic standing, religious beliefs, shape, size, personality, abilities, interests, sexuality and more. The hope that accompanies such diversity is that students will learn how to better understand different types of people so that, when faced elsewhere with the unimaginable variety of people in the world, students will be better equipped to interact, learn and work with them. This is a gift.
Student clubs like the Black Student Coalition, the Jewish Student Coalition, the Gay-Straight Alliance, and others offer students of a particular group an opportunity to identify with and support one another, and invite the community to join the discussion. The Deerfield Identity Project is, for the second year, giving students the chance to identify themselves in a personal way before the community to see in locations around campus while our motto urges students to be worthy of those things that come to us through birth, like our ancestry or family values.
And yet the majority of us still don’t know each other. While student clubs, school initiatives and the identity project provide a safe and open environment for our diverse community, they cannot make individuals take a risk and get to know someone whom they don’t quite understand. Instead, they (either clubs with a collective identity or individuals participating in the identity project) provide the community with labels—“Black,” “Gamer,” “Bisexual,” “Jock,” “Nerd,” or “Artsy.” By giving these labels to one another we are inviting each other to end the conversation and retreat to our respective corners, almost absolving others from caring about who we are.
Don’t get me wrong—students feel safer, and our school is better off, because of these initiatives. But tolerance isn’t all we aim to achieve. In an intelligent community in a nation known most for its freedom and its diversity, respectful tolerance is expected. Quietly accepting people for the labels they place on themselves is not propelling us forward to our common humanity.
The heart of what I am getting at is that people are lazy. I know I am. If you present, or misrepresent, yourself in an easy to understand package then no one will care to ask any more. Similarly, try to go beyond the simple, safe definitions your peers often give themselves.
The next step we must all take individually and collectively is to appreciate each other for more than what is easy to understand. The Deerfield community is a wide and deep resource for the socially curious. What make this interesting are the parts of it that we haven’t yet encountered or can’t quite conceptualize. Keeping this in mind, write something on your identity paper that will make someone else ask you a question. They could be your next best friend, and if not, at least they aren’t just a label.