Intentionally Exclusive

In last week’s issue of The Phillipian, James Jung ’14 claimed the Andover student body has adopted a concept of diversity that does not allow for individuals to come together to truly express their opinions on race and gender, stating that there is essentially no point in discussing diversity in a community “so monolithic in its values” of acceptance and respect that such beliefs form an “orthodoxy.” Though Jung’s argument is valid, I feel that he ignores one crucial flaw. Diversity is not a simple concept, and students cannot ignore the mosaic that they and their peers construct, not only as a student body, but as citizens and residents of the United States. Andover is diverse not only in terms of skin color and gender, but also in terms of background, socioeconomic class, interest and ideology. The one thing we do share is a collective right to feel accepted and safe at our school. It is not fundamental orthodoxy that causes many Andover students to label a viewpoint on a topic of identity “ignorant” when it degradates or wounds another member of our community: it is a deeply rooted commitment to the well-being of our peers. If this is the social conformity to which Jung is referring, then it is a conventionality I am proud to uphold. With that said, I do agree with Jung’s underlying point that, in order to understand the views of those who cannot step in our shoes, we must interact with them. Not everyone is going to have the same opinion on every issue, and discriminatory conclusions are not necessarily drawn with malicious intent. The purpose of initiatives like More Than Just A Number and F = E is to discuss what it means to identify as a woman or a person of color within a society traditionally dominated by white males. In a community in which every group vies for respect and tolerance, however, we must talk about diversity in a way that includes all voices. White anti-racists and male feminists, despite lacking first-hand experience with institutionalized racism and sexism, respectively, are often still valuable and passionate contributors to these movements. Similarly, voices of dissent provide worthwhile insight into the more cynical perception of each movement. Therefore, while minority students are correct in their assertion that they should not feel obligated to educate the privileged, they may find that it is in their own best interests to do so anyways. Nevertheless, when individuals are spoken to about their comments and opinions being one-sided and ignorant to the community as a whole, they should own up to their mistakes. Too often, individuals in our community open their mouths to express their view on a topic that they have little to no knowledge of. For example, even if an individual has researched the beauty standards of black women and arrived at the conclusion that there is no aesthetic discrimination toward black women in the West, their opinion still will not hold the same viability of a black woman who has actually experienced such prejudice. A self-generated stance from a person of privilege simply does not outweigh the personal experiences and conclusions of an individual who has actually experienced institutionalized gender or race-based discrimination. The so-called “Andover Bubble” is a space that we have created to instill and welcome the opinions of others so that nobody may be left out. Not everyone or every identity group, however, shares similar views. Thus, the community has established somewhat concrete values that everyone should abide by when discussing topics of identity: namely, a general standard of courtesy and mindfulness. The passionate dialogue Jung called for in his article could prove enormously beneficial to on-campus discussions, but in pursuing this intensity and candor in our discourse, students cannot simply neglect their obligation to treat their peers with respect. Engaging in discussions of identity-related issues only reaches its full potential when all individuals are able to obtain some understanding about where they stand in relation to the issue and what they can do to help solve it.