It was Thursday, January 31st, 2020, and I was eager to attend the Harvard Model United Nations Conference. After five months of preparation, the day had finally arrived when I would get to show off my skills to my peers and to people from around the world. It took a lot of hard work, late nights, and research to be ready for the challenge that awaits. After a grueling week of preparing for the conference and completing the homework for that week and the following, I was prepared and organized for any curveball that may come my way. Until a sudden email sent all of that dedication into a spiral — the one thing I wasn’t prepared for was Deerfield not allowing us to attend.
Upon receiving an email titled “Update on Harvard MUN Trip,” I was astonished to read that Deerfield canceled the trip out of fear of the 2019 Coronavirus strand. The other nine students and I planning to attend the conference were shocked and disappointed, as this email was sent an hour before our scheduled departure. We received no prior information or warnings, just an email at the last minute. Rather than Deerfield giving us a fair chance to explain the severity of canceling such a vital event, we were given no opportunity to explain our frustration before the event was canceled. Deerfield also did not give a clear or concise response as to how Harvard responded to their inquiries over the prevention of the Coronavirus. As students, we asked multiple times about the response the Harvard Model UN team sent them; however, we were left with subjective comments that didn’t explain Harvard’s reasoning or prevention methods or contain a direct quote from their response.
But rather than canceling all trips outside of the Deerfield area, only academic clubs were prohibited from attending their competitions. That same weekend, the Science Olympiad club was scheduled to attend a tournament, but it was later canceled last minute. The next weekend, the Deerfield Swim and Dive team visited Florida for their preseason trip, and people traveled back home for a long winter weekend. This situation then begs the question, why did Deerfield only cancel the academic tournaments students would be attending but long winter weekend and athletics trips remained the same?
By canceling all academic trips and none of the athletic trips, Deerfield set a precedent for which extra-curricular they support more. Deerfield showed how they were willing to risk students participating in an athletic event more so than an academic’s extra-curricular competition. Frankly, for the students who participate in these academic events, it is disheartening to see how Deerfield values our competitions as lesser than. We are able to bring just as much prestige and reputation to the Deerfield name and should be given the same amount of attention and care, not just a last-minute email that doesn’t explain much as to why this event was cancelled.
Recent decisions like those of Harvard MUN and the Science Olympiad have made it clear that clubs and student groups are beginning to lose their prominence across campus. As a member of the Asian Student Alliance board, it has been disheartening to see the ways in which the alliance has been limited since my freshman year. Ideas for special events and opportunities always boil down to the question of “can we afford this?” and recent cuts to our budget have further exacerbated these concerns. This has led to a sizable portion of overall expenses coming out-of-pocket, along with a cutdown on events throughout the year. Although it is still unclear as to the reasoning behind lower student group budgets, it nonetheless has had a direct impact on our engagement to the community.
It’s clear that many clubs across campus require a level of dedication and time more comparable to athletic co-curricular than to simple student-led groups. Often, these clubs give an opportunity for Deerfield students to connect with and present to those beyond our campus, through which they are able to create a lasting image of the school. Much like any athletic team, these groups need off-campus experiences at competitions or conferences, to grow and develop, and limiting them is only disincentivizing future participation.
Ultimately, we believe that Deerfield needs to raise academic clubs accordingly to a caliber in which participants are able to engage themselves at a higher level. At this point, the lack of proper resources and opportunities to allow for the development of experiences is directly leading to a decline in participation, especially from newer students. With this trajectory, many groups risk losing even the few chances they get to share their interests with others. This isn’t helped by the fact that student groups at Deerfield are restricted in their abilities to fundraise, leaving their limited budgets as their only source of resources. We, as a community, need to open up to changes that allow for greater freedom in club leadership in order to cater to the needs of every group. Whether that be by allowing for fundraising activities, increased time slots to hold meetings, or providing more opportunities to participate in off-campus events, significant changes must occur to sustain the culture of student groups on campus.
A good way Deerfield could show academic extracurricular the same respect as athletics would be to introduce club coaches. Teachers who have participated in Debate, Model United Nations, Classic Certamen, or other clubs can pass their knowledge down to our students, and build strong teacher and student relationships; thus, students would be able to advance their skills in a field they are passionate about pursuing.
In the future, we hope Deerfield values its clubs as strongly as its athletics. Many of our clubs have and will continue to win awards in Deerfield’s name and gradually advance its reputation. We believe that these groups hold just as large of a presence in the culture and tradition of Deerfield as any other extracurricular activities, and it should be our goal to sustain them to the best of our ability. It’s up to us to choose where their priorities lay and if they will support students who chose to participate in academics over athletics.