When the author of the recent Boston Globe article accused Deerfield of having a toxic culture and of being a poor place for girls to go to school, my first instinct was to scoff at the absurdity of her statements. She did not go to Deerfield, and she made no effort to write an unbiased piece of journalism. Like many students here who also read the article, the first thing I thought was, “She’s attacking my home.” But that was my mistake. Although I believe her message is fundamentally flawed, there is some value in the article. It offers the Deerfield community an opportunity to take a step back and examine its surroundings more thoroughly.
I have attended four different schools in the past six years. Two of those were local public schools, one was a private high school, and the fourth is Deerfield. At home and at Deerfield, I do not identify as a female nor have I been a victim of any sort of discrimination, sexist behavior, or harassment; my experience is not the same as that of some others at Deerfield. However, I can say that in the past six years, I have found Deerfield to be the place that most emphasizes healthy relationships and equality among genders. I have only been here for two years, so I cannot speak for what has happened in the past. But the past is in the past, and I believe Deerfield is moving in the right direction.
To begin, there is no doubt – at least in my mind – that Deerfield offers equal opportunity to everybody, regardless of gender identity. One can simply look at the leaders on campus as an example. For the first time in history, Deerfield’s Head of School is female. For the first time in history, the Captain Deerfield title – previously only held by one boy each year since 1995 – is now held by both a male and a female student. Last year, our school president was a girl. Several students who do not identify as male hold positions of leadership in extracurricular activities. Just from these examples alone, if need be, I would have no problem sending my daughter (if I’m fortunate enough to have one) to Deerfield. But what about the things that don’t appear on the admissions brochure?
One cannot just look at the obvious examples of female leadership on campus and say that Deerfield clearly fosters only healthy relationships and that everybody on campus treats each other with utmost admiration and respect. It would be ignoring 90% of the students and their everyday interactions. Also, it’s just untrue. People at Deerfield lie to each other, say bad things behind each other’s backs, don’t always include others… It is by no means a perfect place. Are we proud of that? Of course not. Are we working on it? Absolutely.
While here, I’ve noticed a few differences from my past experiences at the other schools with regard to gender roles and relationships. First off, the “clique” culture at Deerfield is nowhere near as prominent as the two public schools I went to. At home, you could walk into the cafeteria and around the hallways and easily notice distinct herds: football and lacrosse players, band class buddies, the “computer geeks,” and the “popular” girls. This was on top of one other thing: boys and girls never sat together. There was division. It was frustrating for somebody who played lacrosse and football, sang in the chorus, and really enjoyed doing chemistry homework. When I came here, I saw very little of that herd mentality. Yes, sports teams sit with each other at dinner after practice, and yes, you will rarely see a PG walking around unaccompanied by another PG. But it’s different. I sing in three different groups here, and there are athletes in these groups. I sit with girls at lunch and dinner all the time, and a few of my closest friendships here are with girls. The administration has played a role in this dynamic as well; in converting an all-male upperclassmen dormitory into a freshman coed dormitory, girls and boys are offered the opportunity to develop good relationships with each other from the start. If there are divisions, I’ve yet to find them.
Above all, in no other environment am I reminded as much as here that it is an unquestionable obligation of every man on campus to respect women. The private school I attended from 2014 to 2016 was an all-male Catholic school of Marianist order, so while we were taught that respecting women was priority number one, there was nowhere in the building to manifest these teachings (unless we were talking to the women who worked in the cafeteria). All of my coaches here – considering that I play on all-male teams – consistently emphasize this. What sets Deerfield apart from the other places is that this standard is not only maintained by the male students on campus, but expected of one another.
In comparing my experiences in other schools at home to my experience here, I would be remiss to say that sexism and discrimination are absent at Deerfield. However, what Kay Lazar failed to recognize in her article is that sexism is everywhere. There’s the workplace, where women are still struggling to narrow the wage gap and continue to be victims of discrimination when looking for employment. There’s the military, where women, regardless of physical capabilities, still face restrictions. There’s the government, where men still hold an overwhelming majority of important positions. On the news, you hear of numerous cases of domestic abuse and sexual harassment. Sexism is in everyday interactions. Does its widespread influence make it acceptable? Definitely not. But the point is that it’s certainly not just a “Deerfield thing.” It’s a cultural thing. It’s a societal problem. And I say with conviction that Deerfield is working hard towards sending their graduates into the world to change this issue.