By Monica Chan (V)
When people found out about our plans to start the Asian Student Union, some had asked me why I cared so much or wondered if I only started the group to boost my college application. The truth is, I was upset that the issues I cared about were considered “unimportant.” There was one instance when I reported a student in class who was repeating random offensive syllables and asking me if they meant anything in Mandarin despite me telling them to stop. After my talk with the administration, I never even received an apology from the student.
Another time I felt that issues were cast aside was when the Asian parents at this school felt upset and met with the administration about an inappropriate book that was added to the English curriculum; their concern was mitigated and turned into a social media ploy, an Instagram post showing rows of upset parents on the official school page, captioned happily about how the diversity staff was meeting with the parents of the Chinese-American community. The post was promptly deleted when met with backlash.
Overall, I felt upset with how these issues had been ignored, and no one had tried to reach a true solution.
Unfortunately, ignorance from the administration has been a common theme in Pingry’s history, not with just Asian-American issues, but with issues regarding multiple communities. Instead of working to a solution, I have noticed that Pingry tries to reach “the most politically safe” answer instead. I recently found this trend has been happening for a long time.
About a month ago I stumbled upon a 1990 New York Times article, titled “Private Schools Wrestling With Diversity and Identities,” in which the author talked about diversity-based issues at a number of institutions in our area. A large portion of these issues were about Pingry. The article mentions one instance where the Jewish community at Pingry had wanted to light a menorah next to the yule candle at the annual Winter Festival, and how their request had been met with a “peace candle,” which was supposed to represent the yule candle and the menorah.
Lighting a peace candle didn’t really solve the issue, which was about truly representing the Jewish community at the school during the festival. Instead, this was the most “politically safe” response to the issue. People may ask, why would a politically safe response be bad? It doesn’t hurt anyone and nobody can be offended. While this may be partly true, the most politically safe response doesn’t solve the issue. Instead of figuring out how to make sure that the various groups will feel represented at the school, a politically neutral solution almost seems insulting. It is as if the problem is too insignificant to handle head-on. A neutral solution says, “we aren’t offending anyone, so will everyone get off our case?”
At a school that is as diverse as ours, it is very possible for a student to feel ignored, and their issues can slip through the cracks. Our school is proud that we have the GSA, the Black Student Union, and as of this year, the Asian Student Union. But what about all the identifiers in between? How will a student know where to turn to when they have an issue they want to share with the school that doesn’t fall within these groups? I realize that only a few months ago, this is how I felt at the school. Affinity groups keep the issue within the community, but those topics never get shared outside. Most groups are never covered by the various “diversity workshops” advisories must complete. There is no framework at this school to discuss many important issues that don’t fall within these pre-existing groups.
My co-founders and I started the Asian Student Union because we didn’t want future Asian-American students feeling that there was nothing to support them, as that is how we have previously felt. If Pingry wants to be a genuinely inclusive place, it needs to take its various communities’ issues to heart. For instance, when I reported a very direct act of prejudice, the school should have done its best to appropriately handle the situation instead of letting it go with no consequences. Pingry needs to fully address issues like these––otherwise, the school would not be supporting its students. Additionally, I implore this institution to genuinely solve problems, rather than finding a political “peace candle” solution that, in the end, makes nobody happy. Speak to students who have been affected one-on-one, reach out to the parents to gauge their opinions more often, and act on their feedback. Most importantly, though, encourage dialogue regarding all groups––not just a select few. And to you, reader, who potentially has something to say buried within the depths of your silence, my advice is to say it loud and clear. If there’s no framework here, build it. If it’s never been done here before, do it. Make it known that you will not be ignored and that you are the change we need at this school to truly make this community one that you are a part of.