Welcome to Specials. For this issue, the Scroll is examining the Deerfield bubble and its implications within and beyond our campus. Speaking from the perspective of a day student, Ella Foulkes argues in her opinion piece the ways in which the bubble separates students socially, politically and geographically from the surrounding community. Most importantly, Foulkes makes the case for why the Academy and its students should break out, contribute and engage with the larger community. Stepping outside of the bubble, Julia Hioe speaks with members of the Pioneer Valley, collecting their views on the Deerfield bubble and how it has shaped Deerfield’s image and role. Through a multifaceted inspection of the Deerfield bubble, we hope to fully understand, and work towards dissolving barriers that serve to isolate our community and the ones we surround.
When I hear the term “Deerfield” I, and many others, think of school, not the actual town of Deerfield. Students coming to Deerfield are entering a community outside of the Academy and yet there exists layers of bubbles surrounding the campus—preventing meaningful engagement.
Despite living on campus this term, being a day student has always appeared integral to my Deerfield identity. It’s a title constantly reiterated, whether on my laundry card which calls me a “Boarding Day Student,” or an article introducing me as “Ella Foulkes, a day student.” Frankly, being a day student was always an insecurity for me, as I felt I wasn’t just a Deerfield student, I was a Deerfield day student. I worried I would miss out on the ‘true’ Deerfield experience by not spending all of my time on campus. I had come to define Deerfield as its campus, as its borders, and as a perfectly enclosed bubble of community, both physically and ideologically, and I straddled this bubble.
In particular, I noticed a physical bubble that prevented genuine connection with the community and therefore limited students’ capacity for engagement. Before the pandemic, I only left the campus with people other than close friends once, for a community service day with the track team. I appreciate that Deerfield Academy’s attempt to foster a connection in this way, but that one day of required service did little towards that goal. Students seeking community projects during breaks or even the year focus on large-scale projects or distant travels with the CSGC, often not considering their potential impact in their community in Western Massachusetts. Deerfield Academy and its students have the capacity and resources to significantly contribute to combating levels of poverty in the area through volunteering with the local food bank or using their projects to address the homelessness, poverty, and hunger in the community that they live in for the year. However, when students don’t interact with these issues, they seem distant, and less pressing then they truly are. Even ‘non-service’ engagements with the community such as weekend trips to Greenfield or Amherst to see a movie or go to a restaurant, would expose students to the world directly outside of the Deerfield bubble. The Academy does try to supply these opportunities for students (before Covid-19, of course), but many students do not take advantage. Students stay on campus, in part, because we are comfortable in our physical bubble, and don’t have the necessity to leave it. By not leaving, the physical bubble is further solidified and the cycle continues.
This physical separation not only leads to a further lack of engagement from students with the community, it fosters a political bubble around the campus. When I initially heard the term, the Deerfield Bubble, I assumed it referred to a simple political divide, but over the past three years, I have come to understand how complicated politics on campus truly is. I believed it referred to the conservative presence on campus that I was unused to in Amherst. This is true to an extent, as Massachusetts is considered one of the “bluest” states, while Deerfield is much more evenly split (in fact, Massachusetts had the highest percentage of votes go to Joe Biden than any other state this election).
But what shocks me, and what I believe constitutes the true Deerfield Political bubble is that many Deerfield students are simply “not into politics,” an entirely new concept for me, and one I consider linked to the physical bubble surrounding campus. Politics is crucial to all aspects of our lives because decisions made for, or by, our country have direct impacts on us. Absolutely, certain classes, races, ethnicities, sexualities, and many other groups are left more at the whim of policy makers than others. However, not feeling personally impacted by certain political decisions does not create an excuse to not care and can be damaging to groups that do need the attention.
A distinction must be made between international students for whom American politics may not be as relevant, students who feel uncomfortable expressing their beliefs and do not have the space to do so, and students who simply don’t seem to care. Not caring about politics is absolutely a privilege, and one persistent on campus. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, I had numerous conversations with eligible voters on campus who chose not to vote. Even students who I see are political at home (through social media) often stop being proactive when on campus.
When students enter the physical Deerfield bubble, the disconnect they experience from the harsh issues I mentioned previously makes it easy to put politics aside. The Deerfield administration certainly tries to create opportunities for engagement through things like a school-wide subscription to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. However, many students do not take advantage, because it can be comfortable to avoid devastating political topics. Political events on campus are often not attended by the students that need to hear the message the most.
To effectively pop the Deerfield political bubble, politics and current events can not just be available, they must be integrated into student’s everyday lives, through the classroom, through addresses from the administration, through opening genuine political discourse on campus. The bubbles protect students from the harsh realities of the national or global political scenes and this sheltering can lead to students graduating Deerfield without understanding the necessity of engaging with political topics, or without being able to do so effectively.
Further complicating the matter, productive political discourse can be incredibly hard to come by on campus. Whether through tailored social media or choice of friends, students often find themselves surrounded by conversation that agrees with their political philosophy. This is fine, and can be healthy, however, when students only engage in political discourse with friends that agree with them, or are only exposed to specific opinions on social media, they are effectively in an echo chamber. Within the Deerfield political bubble, smaller political bubbles have formed which inhibit open discussion and integration of politics onto campus.
I fell into an echo chamber myself this summer. After months in quarantine, spending a lot of time on social media and talking with close friends, I had grown used to being agreed with. When I returned to school, I was shocked when faced with disagreement, which led me to grow defensive. I see this often when two groups are so assured in their beliefs that discourse turns combative. Discourse does not always mean convincing others or being convinced; I still believe in the same things I did this summer. Rather the first step in productive discourse on campus is listening for genuine understanding. By dissolving these interior bubbles through productive, non-combative discourse, politics can become a stronger presence on campus which could, in-turn, expose students enough to break down the larger political bubble surrounding the community.
Deerfield Academy has an ability and responsibility to graduate students capable of improving our world and solving issues. In many ways, the Academy achieves great success on this front. Yet each bubble that separates Deerfield Academy from the community—each bubble that removes students from the issues they can contribute to the solution of—hinders this goal. To dissolve these bubbles will be a slow, but absolutely crucial process.