A Rant: Inclusion through Exclusion

day night, I received an email from the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force about an all-school discussion on inclusion—an initiative Mr. Maqubela promoted. On the first day of school, I was so excited to hear these words come from our own headmaster in his chapel talk: “Next is the theme I have chosen for the year: Celebrating Belonging and Inclusion…From its founding in 1884, service, inclusion, and belonging have been a part of the mission of Groton. The revamped mission that includes a devotion to inspiring lives of character, learning, leadership, and service can only be fulfilled if it is undergirded by this Inclusion and Belonging.” When I heard this from Mr. Maqubela, I was cheering inside, waiting for our school to “change.” Soon, I realized that my imaginations were far from reality and that my hopes were naïve.

I don’t think Mr. Maqubela quite imagined our school “including” students in this manner. Personally, I was baffled by what the school was doing. While Mr. Maqubela celebrated diversity and different opinions, some faculty members took his words to a new extreme: inclusion by exclusion. Yes, that is an oxymoron, and that’s why, even though the intention is undeniably admirable, I believe the means of achieving the school’s goal is fundamentally wrong. What I mean by “include by excluding” is that the school is trying to exclude the minority  views and convincing those students into accepting the majority credo. Everyone has the same opinion, so no one is left behind or excluded. This is evident in so many different occasions at Groton from small things like giving parlor cookies to Lower Schoolers to bigger issues such as expressing political views.

At the first parlor of the year, seniors started leaving parlor with handfuls of cookies to give to their advisees. I followed suit by grabbing a dozen chocolate chip cookies with a huge smile, excited to bring this late night treat. It was a very rainy night, so I covered the cookies with my raincoat even though that meant my shirt was going to be soaking wet. By the time I walked into the Mall, I was better off without my muddy sneakers. Water was still dripping down my soaked shorts, but I was on a mission: to give these cookies to Elyssa and Lilias. Nothing was going to stop me–not even the pouring rain. But I was stopped by a faculty member, who told me that seniors can no longer bring cookies to Lower Schoolers because “some of the kids didn’t get any cookies and others got a lot, and that’s unfair.” I honestly thought I misheard the on-duty faculty member.

I couldn’t believe it. Of all the possible reasons not to bring joy to these Lower Schoolers, it was that response I received. I could think of several better reasons: I might distract kids in study hall, I might be soaking wet and track mud into the hallway, or I might even be breaking intervis. Of all these quite legitimate reasons I made up on the spot, the real reason was that certain senior advisors were too busy to bring cookies to their advisees. I still find this ridiculous. Giving cookies to Lower Schoolers is one of many great gestures of welcoming new students to the Circle. This isn’t Moscow in the 1930s. We don’t have to put all the cookies into one pile and ration them equally to each student – this completely contradicts the purpose of bringing cookies to these kids in the first place.

I became absolutely livid when even the most basic human rights were being abridged here at Groton: the right to free speech and to a public forum of opinions. During the all school meeting, I was quietly listening to each student’s idea of inclusion, and I noticed that none of them said anything about their credos—different tenets each soul has. When I realized that each kid was only telling where he or she was from and how many siblings he has, it dawned on me. It’s not that these kids don’t have different views and opinions on life, but rather they were too scared, intimidated, and uneasy to voice their beliefs in front of the teachers. This tendency of refraining from addressing personal opinions has gotten worse in the last few months. Even last year, I could remember students standing up for themselves and asserting their ideas straight to the teachers or to the public, but such action is now considered “brash” in the eyes of faculty and “brave” in the eyes of students.

The Young Republicans sent out an email on Student Conferences two months ago with a cartoon strip that comically demonstrated their point of view. However, their clever way of expressing their political view was shortly rebuked by a faculty member who claimed such email shouldn’t be posted. Wait. Since when was Groton a place where we can’t express our political and/or social views? Since when was Groton a place only for Democrats? Since when was Groton a place where the teachers told the kids what to believe rather than allowing them to figure it out themselves? Did “integrity and civility remain important at Groton” as our school’s website claims? The school abridged the “integrity” of students to maintain the “civility.” Students were willing to silence their opinions for the sake of being “civil.” This, to me, is nonsense. Just because most people in New England are Democrats doesn’t mean that other students from different parts of the world have to feel the need to change their political views to that of the majority simply to be “agreeable.”

Such state of affairs isn’t the fault of students; rather, it’s the fault of both the faculty and students. There have been teachers here who told their students that their history essays or even English papers were flat-out wrong just because these students had different views. Groton is not a place of collectivism. The school cannot and should not tell students what to believe or what they can express; rather we, the students, should be educated in a completely objective manner in which we can find our own political and social stances. If we are all included by believing in the same credo, that is not inclusion. That is far from a welcoming environment of diversity. Credo in Latin roughly translates to “I believe,” not “we believe.” Wherever we go, there are people with different views: conservatives, radicals, democrats, republicans, etc. Our school, no matter how much it is tempted to advise students to believe a certain principle, must welcome minority views. At the same time, students are guilty of yielding our voice. Voicing one’s conviction is not a “brave” act but an innate prerogative that can’t be checked by others. We have to fight for our own voice in this school.

Now, if teachers were to read this, some may think that I, as a student, have no right to say any of this and that my opinions are wrong. This in itself epitomizes my view of including through excluding. If the school wants to espouse diversity and true inclusion, every single person’s opinion should be respected. My voice, just as anyone else’s, cannot be snubbed just because I might have a different point of view. However, this doesn’t mean I think what the school is attempting to do is bad. I am ecstatic that our school has this mentality to reform and promote inclusion in its purest form. I love the intention and the enthusiasm, but I fear the means of bringing about our vision is pointed in the wrong direction.

I am an Asian student who grew up in Hawaii and Korea. My background and opinions are so disparate from those of most people at Groton. Yet I felt so comfortable here when I first stepped into Brooks House, a place full of enthusiastic and outspoken scholars. I loved the Thursday nights when Hans Trautlein brought cookies to me, the fervent political discussions, and the crazy filibuster that the seniors pulled off three years ago. I understand our school feels the need to include everyone by making a “safer” environment. But does that truly benefit the students? Groton has unnecessarily censored students in politics, social issues, and humor. Once we grow up (or even our next few years in college), there is no one who is going to protect us from the truth: everybody doesn’t have one homogeneous belief. If Groton wants to prepare us for the real world, the school cannot homogenize our ideas nor discourage us from voicing our opinions. Now, students don’t say anything, whether it be incisive or humorous, for they are more and more scared of running into trouble with the administration by saying what they truly believe.

Though I might have feared judgments, I at least felt free to express my beliefs. Lately, I feel more and more boxed into surrendering my ideas. However, this is my last attempt, before I graduate, to regain my muted voice. Our proposals and eagerness for inclusion have proven to be keen. Now rather than inclusion by exclusion, we should change the small things to launch our initiative. For example, the school should have more all-school activities like lipsync, Spring Fling, and weekend dances. Holding these events seems so minor, yet these allow everyone in the school to have genuine fun without leaving anyone out. We should have a public forum in which we can say what we truly believe without the interference. This initiative will take a long period of time to be fully realized. Nonetheless, I believe in Groton and its potential to truly change. Before we get ahead of ourselves, we as a school have to take one step back and ask ourselves: “What do we want the definition of ‘inclusion’ to be at Groton?”

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