Start with Stories

In the The Phillipian’s April 11 Commentary section, David Shin ’14 criticized the discussions surrounding race and gender that have seized the campus in the past year, considering them illegitimate. In particular, Shin took issue with what he deemed “the sharing of personal struggles followed by commiseration and solidarity…” Shin presented this type of dialogue and the pursuit of egalitarian solutions as two opposing forces. I would argue, however, that they are one and the same.

Under a political doctrine that already grants equal rights to all races and genders by law, the reason racial and sexual prejudices still persist is not a legislative one, but a cultural one: those who fall outside the white, cisgender male archetype are viewed as different and thus inferior, despite the fact that individuals of different genders, races and cultural identities all have the same constitutional rights. We simply do not live in a post-racial, post-gender society. Policies like affirmative action try to level the playing field by intentionally leveraging bias in the opposite direction, but these practices are only a palliative measure and do not treat the underlying cause.

The real solution is, in fact, the simple telling of stories, of struggles and experiences. White people and men do need to sit down and listen, to hear the testimonies of their non-white, non-male counterparts and understand that different does not mean lesser, just different. If such a sharing of experiences is followed by commiseration, compassion and empathy on the part of white, male individuals, only then can we regard it as a success. The goals of these discussions are unification, understanding, and at the very least, cognizance, not the disagreement Shin is looking for.

This is not to say that white people and men should not be part of the conversation as well — to reject or ignore their opinions would be just as discriminatory. As Shin fairly states, the views of these groups are often dismissed. The experiences of white males are just as valid and pertinent to the discussions as any other. Anyone who has been through a PACE class should know that being a male in American society has its own “pros and cons.” Nevertheless, discussions of race and gender should be just that — discussions. White people and men do need to sit down and listen only because they have historically dominated and monopolized such discussions.

With this in mind, however, there is absolutely no room for dissenting viewpoints on the part of white males. What is there to oppose? Suffrage? Equal pay? Equal rights? On the other hand, allegations against entire races or genders should be completely avoided, because not only are they unproductive, they also discourage and alienate certain groups. Each individual, regardless of race or class, has a unique perspective worth sharing.

The ability to have these conversations on campus is one of the benefits of the intentional diversity that Andover lauds, yet one that Shin opposes. Andover’s intentional diversity brings individuals with completely different backgrounds and experiences into one community, giving us the opportunity to understand the world from other perspectives, not just the one we were born into. It allows us to compile manifold works like “Out of the Blue,” or hold heterogeneous discussions, panels and forums that most high schools cannot.

At Andover, you are more than just a number; you are a unique collection of stories, struggles and experiences that brings a new facet to the Andover community, a diverse exchange of perspective that will hopefully lead to a deeper, more empathetic understanding of race, gender, orientation, class and the other identities that define one another.

So, do we choose intentional racial diversity or racial nondiscrimination? I believe that the former can inspire the latter.

Tyler Lian is a two-year Lower from Old Lyme, CT.