In assemblies, classes, sports teams and clubs, Exeter prides itself as a school that accepts “youth from every quarter.” On the outside, this platitude could not be more true. In classrooms, students sit around a Harkness table and contribute their opinions to the table. After school, students can choose clubs and activities that reflect their interests.
Yet a closer look reveals that Exeter can still make strides to become a truly welcoming, global community. Most international students come from the same, worn-out list of schools. Most are from South Korea, China, Nigeria and the UK. Calling this “diversity” would be deceiving, as it appears that the Admissions Office sticks to a set script when choosing students from abroad. Almost all of my international friends come from affluent families with extensive connections throughout the United States. Very seldom will you encounter an international Exonian that grew up abroad, went to a traditional public school abroad, and attends Exeter on financial aid. This is not an attack on any of the current international students, but rather a plea to the Admissions Office to expand its global outreach to students with exceptional abilities but perhaps not as much wealth and power.
The same “fake diversity” permeates the Admissions Office approach to the intra-US selection process. Many African-American and Latino Exonians hail from counseling programs like Prep for Prep, which prepares middle school students in the New York area. While these programs do a fantastic job of giving low-income and disadvantaged students broader access to higher education, Exeter should not rely on them to fill their “diversity quotas.” Geographic diversity is key: the Bronx and Queens should not be our primary focus when admitting minority students.
The administration’s efforts to promote inclusion have been at best ineffective, and at worst polarizing. At the opening assembly, Principal MacFarlane suggested that the administration plans on removing portraits from the Assembly Hall. Although MacFarlane hoped to create meaningful change, her gesture was taken as a diversion from the core issue, rather than a genuine attempt at inclusivity. ALES never included the Assembly portraits in its proposal, so MacFarlane’s announcement came as an unwarranted surprise for the student body.
Students were also not consulted on the decision to give all Seniors kilts. The decision sparked confusion and frustration not only for its unilateral nature, but also for the way it was presented to the Senior class. The email depicted the issue as trivial when compared to horrific international events, including the deadly Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs shootings. Having never addressed these events in a serious fashion before, the administration thought it would be appropriate to use them as a ploy to advance their argument. It has done nothing to acknowledge devastating environmental tragedies and fatal shootings by radical Islamic terrorists, instead allowing students to host their own fundraising events and discussion groups. As a school that welcomes students from all corners of the Earth, we have a duty to react to crises outside our bubble. Name-dropping will not suffice.
Finally, many students reported that Academy Life Day failed to change their perception of race and only consolidated their pre-existent notions. For one, the sessions and workshops took place in dorm and adviser groups; students did not have to go out of their comfort zone to meet new people and learn about their viewpoints. More importantly, any discussion about diversity and race cannot serve as a substitute for community-bonding events. If the administration wishes to transform our culture, it will have to happen incrementally—at advisee meetings, assemblies, faculty meetings—rather than in one short burst at the beginning of the year.
Mark Blekherman is an Upper at Phillips Exeter Academy.