On October 24, a recent Deerfield alumna posted an open letter to Facebook that addressed race and racism within the Deerfield community, sparking a discussion for students on campus both through the comment feature online and through an open forum that took place in the Main School Building on October 26. So many students and faculty members attended the forum that it was moved from the Caswell into the lobby, and a seemingly endless list of comments emerged on Facebook in the days following the publication of the open letter.
The Deerfield community is making an effort to define racism and address its presence on campus. English Teaching Fellow Ms. Anna Gonzales ’12 sees racism “not as a series of isolated incidents or thing that a person does or is to someone else, but as an outgrowth of official and unofficial policies that make it socially acceptable for people to do or say racist things. … The more frequently we discuss racism, the more effective we’ll be at recognizing more forms of it.” With respect to recent events on campus such as the open forum, Ms. Gonzales said, “[the conversation is] a sign that hopefully people are listening to their peers’ experiences and are trying to learn from them … criticizing a community is a sign that you care.”
Fernanda Ponce ’19 thought that the open letter accomplished “what can be too taboo at Deerfield, which is being honest about what we (minority groups) experience on this campus.”
Many comments on the Facebook thread concerned whether institutionalized racism was present at Deerfield, and who should make that determination. Nafi Sall ’20 said, “You cannot denounce [the 2016 Deerfield alum’s experience] because you never went through what she had to go through. Everyone at Deerfield has their own experience, so let’s not try to doubt and argue against someone else’s.”
Sam Laur ’20 agreed that it’s important to hear what others are saying and to trust members of the community who speak out about racism. He responded to comments on Facebook that were critical of the original post by saying, “Dear white men, … when so many women and people of different races in our community are saying that they have experienced this discrimination first hand, let’s believe them. Let us use our empathy and seek to understand instead of shutting them out because they have experienced things we have not.”
Assistant Head for Student Life Amie Creagh said she found the open letter “eye-opening, discouraging, [and] inspiring.” She is glad that it turned into face-to-face discussions, as “it is very difficult to have your mind changed on Facebook.”
Many students think that a deeper understanding of the problem would serve Deerfield students in trying to find a solution. Nathan Hu ’19 commented during the open forum, “The first step to solving the problem is educating people about the problem.” Similarly, Joni Otto-Bernstein said, “If we’re to change how we act here on campus, … we have to know where to attack these inequalities.”
Ms. Creagh emphasized that “it should not be just our kids of color who are forced to address inappropriate, offensive, hurtful comments.”
Andrew Peck ’18 felt that at the open forum, “We turned the conversation into a game, with two teams, and it was about winning and losing. In reality, there should have been one team, as I hope and believe everybody was there for one same reason, striving for progress.”
Ponce noted at the forum that “hopefully in the future more people will go to alliance and inclusion discussions.” Ponce is “beyond grateful Dr. Curtis attended the forum,” regardless of her prior commitment with the Board of Trustees.
Ponce remarked, “I recognize our administration and the Inclusion Office have done a lot in trying to diversify our student body and bring awareness about different issues to campus. I am beyond grateful for their work, but I think at some point it falls to us as students to be responsible for trying to make our campus a better place, a place that everyone can call home.”
Ms. Creagh echoed Ponce, commenting, “It’s our job as adults to ensure we’re providing the skills, opportunities for conversation, … but we’re secondary. … I believe that more impact can come from peers than from adults.” She said, “Being kind is so simple. … I don’t understand intentionally being mean to somebody. … Just be kind.”