Pingry Anywhere Launches

Pingry Anywhere Launches

By Andrew Wong (V) As a tumultuous 2019-2020 school year came to an end this past June, and the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into yet another month, many members of the Pingry community were questioning if in-person learning would be possible in September. With teachers, administrators, and students desperately wanting to go back to school, Pingry Anywhere, the framework to try and facilitate school in the era of COVID-19, was created. The goal of the project was simple: get Pingry safely back in session this fall. However, it was less clear at first how this would be done. Head of School Mr. Levinson underscored the complexity of the task, summing up how Pingry Anywhere needed to “strategically [align] all dimensions of the School, from teaching and learning to technology to operations and facilities.” A leadership team, consisting of various teachers, administrators, and outside consultants, overseen by Mr. Levinson himself, was formed to manage this Herculean endeavor.

Throughout the summer, Pingry was transformed into a construction site, as facilities staff worked daily to install plexiglass safety barriers, set up massive outdoor tents, and convert the Hyde-Watson gym into a massive cafeteria. Student volunteers and faculty members spent countless hours packaging and distributing thousands of face masks and shields for the entire Pingry community. Meanwhile, the tech team installed speakers, microphones, cameras, and TV monitors in the classrooms to facilitate Pingry’s new hybrid learning model. Teachers rewrote their curricula to make sure that their plans for the year could handle both in-person and remote environments.

After a great summer-long effort, Pingry Anywhere was ready to be unveiled to the community. On September 14th, Pingry students walked back into campus to begin a school year like no other. Each student was required to fill out a pre-screening form before arriving on campus, wear a mask and shield, and try their best to spread out. Classes were hybrid, with some students joining via Zoom from home. After so many months of preparation, Mr. Levinson said of the occasion, “it was just so uplifting and gratifying to see months of planning come to fruition to bring our community back together.” Students were also extremely happy to be back. 

“It was by far the oddest school day I’ve ever had,” said Dean Koenig (VI). “Seeing hundreds of faces in the same building for the first time in months, I thought there was no way in-person learning would last more than a few weeks.” While many students and faculty were initially doubtful about how long Pingry Anywhere would last, the new hybrid model proved to be extremely successful and resilient, in even the face of an uptick of local COVID-19 cases. Daily information on the spread of the virus was provided via the Pingry Anywhere Dashboard, and the addition of weekly pooled COVID testing provided by Mirimus Labs has helped to further ensure student safety.

Now almost two months into the new hybrid model of learning, Pingry Anywhere has proven to be a reliable system for learning during the COVID-19 era. As Mr. Levinson stated, Pingry Anywhere has “strengthened the sense of belonging that students feel as part of the Pingry community and has allowed us to come up with new ways of delivering on our promise of excellence.” Mr. Fahey, director of Pingry’s Health and Wellness Task Force, agreed, speculating on how “maybe the future of Pingry Anywhere is the future of education!” In the weeks that lie ahead, the limits of Pingry Anywhere will most definitely be tested, as the nation prepares for a possible winter spike in COVID-19 cases. Nonetheless, thanks to the flexibility of Pingry Anywhere, regardless of what happens, Pingry students and faculty can be assured that they will be well-protected, and the school will adjust to whatever circumstances arise. 

Staying Fit During a Worldwide Pandemic

By Ava Kotsen (IV)

During quarantine, many used their time to learn a new skill, spend time with their families, binge watch Netflix shows, cook, play video games, take a class online, or catch up on reading. Across the country, millions of Americans also seized this opportunity to incorporate exercise into their daily routines. However, due to lockdown and social distancing guidelines, gyms were shut down for around six months. People had to improvise by building gyms at home. Dumbbells, kettlebells, weights, treadmills, Peloton bikes, gym machines, bars, and all sorts of fitness equipment were sold out across major retailers and back-ordered for months as Americans flocked to buy any gym equipment they could get their hands on. For those who did not have thousands of dollars to drop on crafting elaborate gyms, spending time outdoors was a free and refreshing alternative. 

Families went on daily strolls down the block or on bike rides through the neighborhood. These short jogs and walks helped people incorporate some structure into their lives and avoid the monotony of quarantined life. On YouTube and Instagram, free, at-home, no-equipment workout challenges from fitness influencers such as Chloe Ting, Pamela Reif, and Blogilates promised transformations such as “losing inches off your waist”, or “gaining abs in two weeks”. Those who participated were encouraged to post their progress on TikTok and Instagram as inspiration for others to follow and join.

Even though COVID-19 has entirely altered daily lives, the resilience that Americans have shown in their determination to stay fit is admirable. No matter the method of exercise, they can proudly say that they lived and survived to tell the tale of being in a global pandemic.

Pingry Discontinues AFS Program

After fifty years of hosting foreign exchange students, Pingry decided to cancel its AFS (American Field Service) program for future years. This news comes alongside the fact that, over Spring Break, the current AFS program was understandably called off due to COVID-19. 

The AFS program allowed a multitude of students from across the world to be a part of the Pingry community. Exchange students would stay with a host family for a year, take classes, and be introduced to a new, Pingry way of life. Through this program, students from Pingry were able to meet people from all around the world. Exchange students could engage in new American experiences, while teaching students from Pingry about their own culture. 

The program also involved Pingry’s AFS Club, a student-led club that hosted welcome parties and birthday parties for exchange students. The club’s main purpose was to help exchange students acclimate with their new community. This year the club was led by Alison Lee (VI) and Massa Godbold (V), both of whom loved being a part of the club. 

“I think it was very rewarding,” Lee mentioned (regarding her experience as a club leader). “This foreign exchange was very valuable to not just me, but the Pingry community. I’m sad to see it go.”

“I will miss my ability to travel abroad without leaving the comfort of the Pingry School,” said Godbold. She’ll really miss getting to know new people and making new friends, “friends that I will not soon forget and will keep in contact with for as long as possible.”

The faculty advisor for the club, Ms. Julia Dunbar, will also miss the program. “In my opinion, the best part of the AFS program is the opportunity to meet and work with students from around the world,” she said. 

Pingry’s cancellation of the program was not an easy decision, and there were multiple factors that ultimately decided the program’s fate. The first was the search for host parents. “When the program began, many families were eager to host exchange students,” Ms. Dunbar remarked. “In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to find families who are able to welcome an exchange student into their homes for an entire school year.” This is the main reason Pingry has decided to cancel the program.

The other factor was the expansion of Pingry’s global programming. AFS was one of Pingry’s first global programs, but now there are many opportunities for students to travel around the world, with immersive trips focused on a variety of subjects. Though programs have had to adapt due to COVID-19, the travel program continues to expand. 

“Despite current conditions, Pingry will continue to build its global programming,” said Ms. Dunbar. “By expanding our global travel programs, global education will continue to become accessible to even more Pingry students.”

The program will be missed by Pingry students. Martine Bigos (IV) said, “I think it’s really amazing that AFS gives us the opportunity to meet incredible people from different places every year.” 

This year’s exchange student was Meina Franzius (V), who came to Pingry from Germany. Even though the program was cancelled early this year, she still took a lot away from it. 

“Everyone at Pingry was really nice; the teachers, the students, everybody,” she commented. She talked to me about her experience at Pingry: “It was a challenge at first, but I really enjoyed the classes. The school was totally different than my school in Germany, but I really miss it.

“We did a lot of great things. I really miss everyone.”

 

Positivity During COVID-19

Positivity During COVID-19

By Andrew Wong (IV)

If I had to pick a headline to summarize the entire COVID-19 pandemic here in America, it would have to be “North Carolina Man Steals Truck With 18,000 Pounds of Toilet Paper”. In a close second would probably be our good friend, the Florida Man with, “Florida Man Steals 66 Rolls of Toilet Paper”. In this time of great struggle and uncertainty in our nation, and indeed the entire world, it has become evident that it is fear, not reason, that drives the decision making of not just the two aforementioned characters, but also that of the entire world. We’ve all seen the news. Videos of people fighting over the last bag of rice at the supermarket. Lines stretching out the door of big box stores. As my friends across the world can confirm, there is not a single scrap of toilet paper to be found on store shelves anywhere. People are fearful, and it is evident that hope, just like toilet paper, is nowhere to be found.

      Yes, people do have a right to be scared. The statistics can speak for themselves: Over 2.6 million people have been infected globally, with more than 800,000 cases here in the US alone. The world economy has come grinding to a halt, and American jobless claims are at their highest in the last 10 years. Our everyday lives have come to a complete standstill, as everyone around the world practices social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, with all of these tribulations and challenges that we face presently, there is a brighter side to this crisis — more than just the infection numbers, death toll, or economy the media keeps yapping about. 

The coronavirus has brought out the best in America, a good side that many in our country did not believe exist. Our entire nation, once derided by political pundits as “hopelessly divided”, is now united in a great crusade to fight back against the coronavirus. On Capitol Hill, for what may be the first time in recent memory, Democrats and Republicans have found common ground in a bid to provide relief packages for all Americans. President Trump and New York Governor Cuomo, once bitter political enemies, now work together daily to direct government policy towards the virus. Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences have now become regular viewing for millions of Americans trapped at home, as he continues to send messages of encouragement and positivity not just to the state of New York, but to the entire nation. 

Manufacturing companies have put aside their quest for profits to retool the production lines and make much needed PPE and ventilators. America’s biotech firms have now developed testing kits that can diagnose the virus in minutes and allow for more tests to be run, while scientists in laboratories across the globe work at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine in record time before winter arrives. 

           Doctors, nurses, and first responders in all 50 states are working tirelessly around the clock to contain this virus. It is thanks to the valiant work of our healthcare companies and professionals that the rate of infection is no longer exponential, and as Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said two weeks ago, “we’re seeing [the curve] stabilize, and that gives us great encouragement”. 

Social Media, once criticized as a force that only divided society, has now become the very thing holding everyone together while we are all separated. Crowdfunding campaigns to save local businesses from the economic tsunami caused by COVID-19. In New York City alone, thousands upon thousands of dollars have been raised by New Yorkers on GoFundMe to support local restaurants and stores who have been forced to close due to the pandemic. John Kransinski, of The Office fame, publishes new videos detailing good news happening around the world on YouTube every day to try and keep people positive during social distancing. New quarantine food trends, such as Dalgona coffee and no-knead bread have become popular as a result of these easy but tasty recipes being shared on the internet. Facebook groups have been set up to help provide groceries, toiletries, and home cooked meals to the elderly in order to keep them protected from the virus. 

But the coronavirus hasn’t just brought out unprecedented goodness within our communities. It’s also brought us new opportunities. While COVID-19 may have forced us all to social distance inside, this new reality presents a whole host of opportunities for us. We have been given the gift of many months of free time, so what do we do with it? How about learning a new skill, or experimenting with new recipes? What else can you do with all that stockpiled food anyways?

Perhaps you could build a healthier lifestyle and use this time to build a better you. You could finish those side projects that you never had time for, or maybe start a new lifelong obsession with a new hobby. The choice is in your hands.

There is no way to know how long we will be inside, and based on the current numbers, there will be many more months, if not a year, before things return back to “normal”. But until then, as we witness the first great global crisis of the 21st century, an event that will be forever etched into the collective memory of our generation, let us be reminded that this crisis will be over some day. As we edge closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, let’s put our best foot forward and do our best to remain positive through this tumultuous time. Let’s be inspired by the acts of kindness and humanity throughout the entire world and be our best selves. Let’s not allow our fear to control us, and instead remain hopeful that there are better days ahead of us. All we have to do is stay positive, keep smiling, and just believe.

 

Pingry’s Transition to Online Learning

Pingry’s Transition to Online Learning

Image by Andrew Wong (IV)

By Emily Shen (IV)

Since the conclusion of Spring Break, Pingry students and faculty members have adopted remote learning in order to follow the state-mandated social distancing guidelines. By now, they have finished their first two weeks online. Although this transition has not been easy, members of the Pingry community are working hard to resume the quest for knowledge as they try to find peace during this time of uncertainty. 

According to feedback from some students, most of their classes run synchronously or by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. Almost all of the teachers use Google Meet as the platform for “face-to-face” sessions or conversations, and most work is posted via Schoology or sent out through emails. Teachers make themselves available for help during designated time slots or during flexes and conference periods to make sure students can still seek extra help if they need to.

However, although the continuation of block schedules is supposed to help create structure, the switch to remote learning has not been an easy one for the students. Many have reported that remote learning is negatively affecting their productivity, and it often seems like there is less time for students to meet with their teachers for help. Because students and teachers are constantly interacting through their computer screens, some found that online school is more draining than typical school. Many students also report a significant increase in their workload, as well as a lack of motivation to finish it. Moreover, although teachers were guided to cut their 60-minutes periods to 45 minutes, students still spend hours in front of their computers between attending classes and school work.

Students are not alone in having to adjust to virtual classes. Many teachers also find themselves having to alter their usual way of teaching. “The biggest difference for me is that teaching is like acting or stand-up comedy. I respond to the energy of the group. When we are physically all together, I can see and feel so much more. I can tell when you are tired or sad or upset with somebody in the room. I can tell whether you understand or not, so I can adjust my response…Online, it all feels much stiffer.” said Upper School English teacher, Mrs. Grant.

For the last two weeks, teachers reported that they have gotten a little more used to the experience, but they continue to struggle with their lesson plans. “Lesson planning is very different, and it takes a lot longer.  I find myself reaching out to other language teachers, exploring different sources,” said Mr. Benoit, World Languages Department Chair and Upper School French teacher, “The most complex part right now is figuring out what assessments will look like at the end of each unit or theme.” Mr. Grant, a chemistry teacher at Pingry, believes that “if learning isn’t fun, then it will be easily forgotten. We need to help students gain the skills of thinking and reasoning that they will use throughout their lives.” 

When asked how they’ve adjusted to remote learning, teachers listed several examples of how they have had to adapt. “One thing I learned from my first class is that as a teacher, I hate the mute button for my students, and now I have a ‘no mute’ policy,” answered Mr. Grant. Ms. Thuzar, a computer science and math teacher at Pingry, said that she “spends more time planning and making sure that the remote learning experience for the classes is not too different from the actual in-person classes.” Although that is difficult to accomplish, Pingry students and teachers are all trying to find some peace and normalcy during this chaotic time. 

Like their students, some teachers have also found remote learning to be more tiring than a typical school day. “For some reason, this is all so draining,” said Mrs. Grant when asked about her experience, “Instead of gaining energy from being with all of you, I get exhausted. I was talking with some colleagues Friday evening, and they all reported that they wanted to take a nap in between classes.” Many teachers and students end up sitting in front of the computer and barely getting up the whole day. “I feel like all the classes are all lumped together into this continuous-time span where I sit at my desk in front of my computers for hours,” Ms. Thuzar added, “For the days I teach 3 or 4 classes per day, I ended up staying in front of my computers from about 8 AM to 4 PM, excluding lunch.”

Even though the future is filled with uncertainty, spreading positivity and hope has kept us going. Mrs. Grant shared a small anecdote that cheered many of her students up: “On a positive note, since Mr. Grant and I have opposite schedules, there is non-stop teaching going on in my house right now, so my cats are soon going to be ready for college!” Similarly, Mr. Grant shared that “these are definitely strange times. I think that the most important thing that remote learning can try to achieve is our sense of community. We will get through this experience and remember these times for the rest of our lives. With this in mind, I hope we can make some good memories together.”

Please take care of yourselves and continue to spread love and positivity amongst your friends and family! Stay safe!

 

 

Community Service Council Offers At-Home Volunteer Opportunities

By Zara Jacobs (V)

In wake of the devastation of COVID-19, many people have felt a sudden urge to do something, anything to help the community heal. Even though making a thank-you video or completing a Color-A-Smile seems pointless next to the tragedies we face, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention” (Oscar Wilde). The amount of time it takes to post on Instagram is the same amount of time it takes to fill out the form that sends notes of appreciation to the healthcare professionals at Morristown Memorial Hospital. Though we cannot provide a cure, there is no end to the ways we can support the people in our community. 

The Community Service Council has started making Morning Meeting announcements that present volunteer opportunities, including sharing your appreciation, making sleeping mats out of plastic bags, and so many more. We urge you to at least look at the slides, if nothing else, to simply learn about what you can do to help. It can be really easy to feel helpless, especially in the context of community service. All we want to do is hug our neighbors and our friends and those who are not able to attend their loved ones’ funeral, but we can assure you is that even one thank you video will bring a smile to a doctor who has worked around the clock, putting their life at risk for the sake of the community. Calling your grandma or her friends will bring a smile to their face. When we are able to escape quarantine, we think it would be amazing if every student could come back to Pingry knowing they brought a smile to just one person’s face. 

The Light Behind the Dress

The Light Behind the Dress

By Brynn Weisholtz (VI)

As the sun rises each morning, I wake to see the light peeking through the shades in my bedroom window. In front of that window hangs a gown, my senior prom gown, draped from a hanger with nowhere to go. April 22nd was supposed to be the night of my senior prom, a night that my friends and I have looked forward to since walking through the clocktower doors many years ago. I find myself in a state of limbo, walking from floor to floor and room to room all within the walls of my home. I silently wonder, how can my senior year be slipping away this quickly? Is this really happening? What can I do to turn the shadows of the moment into light for what will ultimately be? 

As events started to get cancelled, part of me could only focus on the negatives of this tumultuous turn of events: no prom, no fashion show, no senior prank day, and possibly no graduation. The suddenly unnecessary prom dress casts a shadow on my outlook for the rest of my senior year and beyond. Towns that once were bustling with open businesses and families walking the streets now look more like ghost towns as masked people stop their cars for curbside pick up from their favorite local restaurants. How is life supposed to return to normal? Will we ever shake hands and talk to strangers on the street again? Will our town centers thrive once more?

As quarantine continued and classes began, I developed a morning routine, returning some normalcy to my day. I wake up, brush my teeth, put in contacts, and then start my commute: walk down the stairs, take a sharp right and then a quick left, and I have arrived at my destination, my classroom. While my classes don’t have the same level of energy virtually as they did when on campus, I know students and teachers alike are giving their all to remain upbeat and engaged. We hold on to what we can in the midst of what appears to be life spiralling out of control, and when the day ends I return to my room to see light coming through my prom dress in my window. 

The shadow of my prom gown is a subtle reminder of the darkness we all feel as a community, born from the uncertainty and loss of the familiar and the known, the expected and longed for, the mundane and extraordinary––but I choose to see the light. I choose to focus on the moments when the sunlight escapes and shines through the shadows, illuminating the silhouette of my dress and reminding me to embrace the here and now, to be thankful for those around me, and, above all, to be hopeful for the joys of life that will emerge in the days and months ahead.  

While the world is at a socially-distanced standstill, the ways the public has been able to shift into this new norm is nothing short of remarkable. In what felt like a blink of an eye, we’ve connected via our computers, reached out to old friends, checked in on our grandparents, and found appreciation for what was. We have embraced the unexpected family time that was once thought as long gone. My brother, another graduating senior, now lives at home for the first time in four years, bringing back game nights, family dinners, movie nights, wiffleball games in the backyard, and walks through our neighborhood.

Though I miss seeing my friends, having passing conversations in the hallways with teachers, and occupying Mr. Ross’ office, we as a community are making the best of everything. I continue to be inspired by those around me and optimistic for our collective futures. In light of this, I took down my prom dress from the window and let all the light shine through. 

An Announcement From the Community Service Club

An Announcement From the Community Service Club

In the wake of this devastating COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of people have felt a sudden urge to do something, anything, to help the community heal. Even though making a thank-you video or doing a color-a-smile seems pointless next to the tragedies we face, these initiatives make a difference. As Oscar Wilde put it, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” The amount of time it takes to post on Instagram is the same amount of time it takes to fill out the form that sends notes of appreciation to the healthcare professionals at Morristown Memorial. Though we cannot provide a cure, there is no end to the ways we can support the people in our community. Pingry’s Community Service Council has started making Morning Meeting announcements that present volunteer opportunities from sharing your appreciation to making sleeping mats out of plastic bags. We urge you to at least look at the slides, if nothing else, to learn about what is available. It is easy to feel helpless in this socially distanced time, but we can assure you that even one thank you video will bring a smile to a doctor who has worked around the clock, or calling your grandparents every so often could truly brighten up their day. When we get out of this quarantine, I think it would be amazing if every student could come back to Pingry knowing they brought a smile to just one person’s face.  

Prorating the Priceless

Prorating the Priceless

By Noah Bergam (V)

The Pingry tuition for the 2019-20 school year was $42,493. Lunch cost $1,378. Those are significant numbers in my life, numbers that, for over six years, have hovered over my head, acting as a reminder of what doesn’t go to my younger siblings each year. 

Those numbers are especially relevant in the era of remote learning. Assuming the very likely scenario that the rest of the school year is remote, it appears students are on track to lose out on both tangible and intangible aspects of an expensive educational experience. This problem, of course, isn’t unique to Pingry. Many universities have issued refunds on room and board and meal plans in the wake of this change. I believe Pingry ought to follow suit and prorate our SAGE Dining meal plans––and while it is unlikely that we could receive a partial refund on the less quantifiable intangibles that we lost this year, it’s a conversation worth opening up … especially if this remote learning situation continues into next fall. 

I remember back in seventh grade when some friends and I tried to break down the cost of Pingry life into an hourly rate. It came down to about $30 an hour, and we joked about how much we were getting robbed by DEAR time––but even back then I think we understood this metric wasn’t the end-all-be-all. The years since have only affirmed that for me: in a normal Pingry hour, you’re getting a lot more than what’s on the schedule. In fact, I would argue that most of Pingry’s value comes down to the stuff you don’t expect: the triumphs and the failures, the conversations, the relationships, the journey as a whole. We cannot and should not try to assign dollar values to those kinds of experiences. 

Such is the paradox of the educational product: for students, the beneficiaries, Pingry is a priceless experience, but for our parents, the customers, it is a hefty investment with a fairly clear goal: “success” in a high-quality educational environment. In my experience, the student and parent perspectives mix like oil and water––where the external parental perspective sees a clear-cut result, the internal student perspective sees the fruits of a complicated learning process.

The issue we now face critically disrupts the learning process and the experience as a whole, which makes it much easier for students and parents alike to take a critical stance on Pingry as a product. Of course, we are fighting it. We are trying our best to believe in the intangibly valuable educational community, and to an extent, we’re succeeding … but at the end of the day, Google Hangouts can’t replace the little things that make real school real: the fast-paced conversation of class, the small talk with teachers, the time with friends, the work-home separation. A screen can’t project all those priceless dimensions of the Pingry experience. 

But can we prorate the priceless? Can we somehow reimburse students for the intangible education that they lost, while still keeping faculty paychecks running? The answer, especially in the wake of this unforeseen disruption, is probably no. Neither universities nor private high schools have even entertained the concept, citing the argument that, despite the drop in quality, they are still doing their best to provide educational resources remotely. That being said, if school is unable to resume in the fall, that changes the game, since tuition adjustment would be an act of foresight on behalf of a “new” product rather than an after-the-fact reaction in the midst of chaotic change. 

In any case, there are two requests we as students can and should make, in the event that remote learning extends to the rest of this year and potentially beyond.  

  1. For the Board of Trustees: please prorate our Sage Dining meal plans. If we are not receiving a service that our parents paid for, we deserve reimbursement. In addition, please consider the prospect of “prorating the priceless,” for both this semester and, if need be, next semester––even if other institutions have dismissed this idea, it is certainly worth deducing and communicating its viability. 
  2. For Mr. Levinson: please address both parents and the student body on this topic. Tuition matters, and in times like this, when the product of Pingry is being tested in unforeseen ways, it ought not to be taboo.

The prospect of refunding some portion of school costs is a matter of goodwill and care for the community. It is the kind of action that recognizes the state of our education not only as a journey in life but as a financial investment that ought to be respected. 

When the Peace Candle Blows Out: A Continuation to On Peace Candles and Being Ignored

When the Peace Candle Blows Out: A Continuation to On Peace Candles and Being Ignored

By Monica Chan (V)

“You shouldn’t go outside without pepper spray,” my dad tells me over lunch.

“Nothing is going to happen,” I say. 

“Just be careful.” 

 

I sigh, grab the small canister of Halt! that sits on my desk, and exit the house for my quarantine walk. I feel safe, because I know my new neighbors across the street are Asian-American, and so is the other house five doors down. There is a new house being built on the next street over and the new family stood outside their house admiring the construction, and I smile at them. However, the owners of that new house are not as kind, and throw me one of the nastiest looks I think I have ever seen.

I feel the can shift around in my jacket pocket. 

I then see a mother walking with her children and a dog, and then one of the other neighbors steps out of her house with her dog, joins the mother and her children, and gives them each a hug. I laugh internally, thinking that they are breaking social distancing rules, but just as they noticed me they moved to the other side of the street. I tried not to notice the occasional glance back from the two adults. 

I don’t take that route anymore when I walk by myself. An overreaction? Maybe. I don’t think they’re going to hurt me. I just don’t want to have to go through that again. The shame, the feeling that I need to somehow cover my face. These thoughts have become my new norm. 

I have always believed in activism and utilizing our freedom of speech to speak up about topics which are important. While I have been lucky enough to be able to avoid the violent discrimination resulting from the coronavirus toward Asian-Americans, I’ve been pretty vocal about some of the hate crimes that have happened to members of my community, as well as the wider Asian community worldwide. There was the stabbing of a Burmese family in a Sam’s Club; a gun drawn at a Korean university student who had confronted someone for posting coronavirus pamphlets on his dorm room door; man killed as a result of suspected foul play from his neighbor; people beat up in Philadelphia and New York City for not wearing a mask; and the ones who got beat up for wearing one. Unfortunately, these instances only name a few examples. 

Comments online about these hate crimes are dominated by people saying things like, “Wow, now you know how all the other minorities feel,” or my personal favorite, “You’re mad now that you got your honorary white person card revoked huh?” 

This comment struck me. I think I always subconsciously felt it, but I feel like Asian-Americans aren’t always treated as people of color (POC) in this country. Rather, I view that we are treated as people of color when it is advantageous for a certain view, and viewed as beneficiaries of white privilege at other times. It’s why the system of affirmative action in universities goes against us, but also the same reason we are encouraged to “stand together as minorities” when other groups have their own activist movements. It’s also why politicians use us as a “model minority” for other minorities when those politicians cannot provide adequate support for broken systems. 

A large part of this sometimes-POC sometimes-white-privilege dynamic stems from a certain Asian-American community wide unwillingness to “make trouble.” For instance, one of my Asian-American friends encountered a situation where a racist comment was made, and when I encouraged her to speak up, she said her parents didn’t want her to make trouble. This problem with being afraid of conflict is something I’ve heard countless times. It’s why a lot of the hate crimes that are happening now aren’t being reported on by major news media networks like CNN, MSNBC, or FOX. I feel like most of the country mistakes Asian-Americans’ unwillingness to bring about conflict with us not encountering any. 

As a leader of the Asian Student Union, this time has brought many questions to me from other members of the community. “What should we do?” and “How do we stay safe?” are all things that younger students, and friends outside Pingry have asked me. I don’t have the answers, and part of me feels like I should as someone who is vocal about Asian-American topics. These aren’t questions I’ve had to ask myself until now. I started the ASU with my friends to enact dialogue and some shift in thought, even if it was just among members of our small Pingry community. I wanted to encourage my peers to recognize and stand up for discrimination, but most importantly to find the courage to stand up for themselves regardless of their identifiers. I never could have expected that the greatest test of my activism would come now. Suddenly, as if overnight, the sphere of these discussions have left the little safe haven that I have helped create in Room 310 at a small private school in Basking Ridge. They feel much more real now, which is scary at the same time as it is empowering. That call to action we’ve been waiting for, that spark that we’ve been hoping will ignite, finally came. It’s time for us to enact the change we wanted to see in our own communities. 

I’ve faced a lot of criticism from those around me, those who think I’m being too vocal about the situation at hand, those who think my words aren’t constructive action against the crimes being committed. I’ve even been told that the racism that we are seeing as a result of the coronavirus is justified due to the horrible actions the Chinese government is taking against Africans in China. However, groups pointing fingers at each other is the thing that is least constructive. Racism is racism, no matter which group is committing it, and it should be condemned, not based on the political climate in which it takes place, but for the morals that we as a society have been trying to progress.