In October 2017, a Deerfield alumna posted an open letter on Facebook urging students to combat institutionalized racism and sexism on campus, which sparked a heated discussion between both current students and alumni in the comments. The following day during advisory lunch, Fernanda Ponce ’19 urged members of the Deerfield community to meet in the Main School Building to address these issues.
The turnout was incredible; more than 100 students, faculty, and staff gathered, perhaps an unprecedented amount of people for an optional meeting. Although people disagreed on the meaning of some terminology used in the discussion, such as the word “institutionalized,” there was a consensus that we needed to take action about the flawed social culture at Deerfield. The potential for change was enormous.
However, that interest has only survived in a single student organization, Deerfield Voices. While the group sets an excellent example by taking initiative to sustain dialogue about inclusion on campus, about 50 people attended their first meeting, and only 23 attended the second meeting. The number of people eager to affect change in our community seems to be dwindling; at the very least, they are not very visible.
At Deerfield, we often adopt a reactive stance to social change, instead of a proactive one. We criticized John Greenwood’s hate speech, and we engaged in a heated debate over Facebook about the alumna’s open letter. However, if these events had never taken place, it seems unlikely that we would have shown the same enthusiasm and commitment to changing Deerfield’s social culture.
It is easy to follow the crowd; when everyone around us is agreeing on a certain perspective, they influence us to make the same choice. While this “group mentality” may seem effective for a short time, we forget or fail to carry with us the spirit of taking action when the group disperses. If we only take initiative in response to alarming events, we will forever be stuck in a cycle of rising and falling interest levels.
At the Scroll, we believe that students can and must take initiative, even without a planned meeting or the administration urging us. Often, we expect a certain group of people to lead inclusion efforts: Dr. Curtis, the deans, Ms. Young and the Office of Inclusion and Community Life, and alliance leaders. However, the work of inclusion should not be limited to these members of our community; in fact, we students are the key players.
Take this example from November 2015: then-DBSA Officer Imani Goodridge ’17 proposed a Blackout Day on the Deerfield Student Forum [on Facebook] to stand in solidarity with the students of color at various universities around America. On the following Monday, nearly the entire student body dressed in black. One student’s commitment spurred a successful movement, and though Goodridge was an alliance leader herself, no other alliance member or members of the administration urged her to take this action.
However, change does not always have to be made in an overtly visible manner. It can be as simple as listening closely to what people say around you. Discriminatory or harmful comments are often subtle, and being conscious of these statements or giving people a gentle reminder to reconsider their actions can go a long way. Taking the goal of inclusion into our own hands simply requires each of us to commit and to act without being told to do so by others.
Few of us would hesitate to say we like or even love Deerfield when asked individually. We do not need a pep rally, bonfire, or spirit week to show that love for Deerfield. Although being around like-minded people might strengthen our feelings, we each carry those feelings in us. So let’s do the same with another form of love for our school: committing to making Deerfield a more inclusive space. Many of us attended that meeting in the MSB lobby; many of us said we care about inclusion. Our intentions will only bear fruit when we practice what we preach.