Recent events on college campuses and around the country have sparked many conversations about the state of race relations in America. While I’m happy those conversations are taking place, it’s unfortunate that the people who would benefit the most from these conversations—those who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the subject of racial tension—often choose not to participate. When I ask them why, I get the same answer time and time again, either explicitly or implicitly: “It doesn’t matter to me.” The truth is that the events at the University of Missouri, Yale, and other academic institutions are very relevant to Deerfield’s status as a predominantly white school. To dismiss the issues those schools face as something that can only happen there and not here is irresponsible and keeps Deerfield from growing and improving.
This isn’t to say that Deerfield hasn’t come a long way in addressing issues of diversity and race on campus, especially in the last few years. The number of faculty of color has expanded greatly, and Greer Chats (started last year by alumni Tarek Deida ’15 and Matt Morrow ’15) and the Deerfield Student Forum (a Facebook group started last year by Nicky Conzelman ’16) have given students strong platforms to share their ideas. As successful as these platforms are, however, the notion that their simple existence eliminates the campus’ struggle with issues of race bothers me a lot. Too often we have incidents where students dress in bandanas and sweatpants as “gangsters,” posing with captions like “The Real Housewives of Detroit,” and failing to see the problem this creates. Too often I’ve overheard white students saying “nigga,” when they think I’m not around, or telling me it’s racist that they can’t say it in the first place. Too often I’ve heard “you should come to my dance piece. It’s so ghetto.” And while I’ve made an effort to have conversations about these things, the sad truth is that most students at Deerfield don’t seem to care. They’re not offended, so what’s the problem?
Do I think that these students are bad people? Absolutely not. I believe that, like all Deerfield students, they have the best intentions in mind. But that’s the thing about discrimination: these days, it comes less from an ideological perspective like the KKK or the Nazis, but more from ignorance. At Deerfield, the idea that everyone is the same, that we’re all uniform and equal, is a comforting thought, but it also acts as a barrier to truly understanding one another. A senior at Yale put it very well when talking about the recent protests on the campus: “[The protests are] about a mismatch between the Yale we find in admissions brochures and the Yale we experience every day.” The Deerfield I saw in the brochures and fell in love with was a school that gave people the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. Deerfield is supposed to challenge our preconceived notions and change us for the better. Frankly, I haven’t seen people embrace the challenge that comes with understanding those who are different from them, but instead have seen them choosing to assimilate into Deerfield’s homogenized culture. This inability to face difference can build up and quickly lead to issues like those seen at Yale and Mizzou, where tensions have peaked, because people didn’t listen to others before it was too late.
So this is an open invitation to all — go to l the meeting of a group you wouldn’t normally go to, even if you disagree with the group’s purpose or mission. See what kind of things they talk about at the JSA or in the Indian Student Alliance, or stop by the Feminism Club. Or, if you can’t make it to a meeting, go sit next to someone you’d otherwise never talk to. Face the unknown, the unexpected, the uncomfortable, and reap the benefits of that challenge. Listen to your peers, and choose to learn about things you may not know. Give back to Deerfield by making the most of what it has to offer, because making Deerfield a better place matters to everyone.