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. 

New Grading Policies

By Monica Chan (V)

Schools across the country are currently navigating uncharted territory in the realm of remote learning, which inevitably brings up the question of how to adjust grading policies. Some schools have decided to adopt pass/fail evaluation, some will omit third quarter grades from the final grade, and others have chosen not to adjust grading at all. Seeing that Pingry is still in the process of considering how grades will ultimately be allocated, I decided to delve into a few possibilities, and illustrate some of the possible benefits and drawbacks of each. Each of these possibilities are for second semester grades only, since we already have one full, undisrupted semester complete. I have also enclosed a summary of the recent Student Government proposal that was sent to the administration by the senior class student representatives. 

Pass/fail seems to be a popular choice for many universities, including Harvard and UC Berkeley. The rationale lies in the belief that many students may feel like their current grades do not accurately reflect their potential, and the disruption of remote instruction might hinder their ability to demonstrate growth or reverse the effects of an outlier grade. Some schools have turned to “optional” pass/fail, meaning that students can elect to change certain courses to pass/fail grades. However, Harvard Medical School has stated that they will only accept pass/fail grades if the applicant’s school mandated pass/fail. This type of policy puts students in a tough spot when they have to show a poor grade that could have improved under normal circumstances.

Another idea is to remove the +/- designation. Basically, this option means that there would be no +/- designation on your grade, so if you scored between a 90-100 it would be an A, 80-89 is a B. While I haven’t seen any schools implement this yet, it would provide a ballpark estimate of your grade while still leaving some leeway for performance increase. 

During my search for different grading policies, I had a few people outside of Pingry reach out to me with their schools’ grade changes. One student at another school said that their school is grading based on participation, meaning that traditional assessments have been omitted altogether. Instead, a number of research projects or creative projects have been implemented instead. This may be difficult for traditional science and math classes, but perhaps one alternative may be assigning concepts to different groups of students to teach to the rest of the class and then getting graded on the quality of those lessons. 

On Wednesday, March 25, Pingry’s Student Government sent a proposal to Dean Chatterji and Dr. Cottingham outlining their suggestions on academic evaluation in the era of remote learning. The proposal included making AP exams optional, which has already been implemented, cancelling final exams, and making spring semester courses pass/fail. For example, if you are in a one semester spring computer science course (Programming Languages and Design, Introduction to Programming) your grade would automatically be pass/fail. 

The proposal also suggested that second semester grades for full-year courses (AP courses, core curriculum classes) cannot bring down your final year grade. This means that if you earned an A in the first semester, and currently hold a B+ in your second semester grade for a certain class, the B+ can not bring down your final average. The administration will revisit the grade adjustment discussion in mid-April.  

Whatever the administration decides to do with the grading, it is apparent to everyone that this year’s academics won’t be traditional. Many colleges such as Harvard and UChicago have said that they will understand grade changes for next year’s high school senior class, and that will have no impact on their evaluation of you as a candidate. Do not fret!

 

On Peace Candles and Being Ignored

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.

Ms. Guadalupe Nunez joins Pingry as Spanish Teacher

Ms. Guadalupe Nunez joins Pingry as Spanish Teacher

Monica Chan (V)

With a passion for teaching and love for the Spanish language and culture, Ms.Guadalupe Nunez receives a warm Pingry community welcome. This fall, Señora Nunez joined Pingry as a Middle School Spanish teacher and Form I advisor. In addition, she will be helping with the production of the Middle School play. 

Ms. Nunez graduated from Syracuse University, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Human Resource Management. She received her Master’s Degree in Foreign Language Education from New York University. Before joining Pingry, Ms. Nunez taught Spanish to elementary and middle school students at schools such as Hunter College Elementary School, Trevor Day School, and New Canaan Country School. 

Besides her teaching posts, she also implemented a program for non-English speaking students at Teach for America and worked with other non-profits around the New York City area including the International Rescue Committee, the Coalition for the Homeless, and El Museo del Barrio. In addition to these roles, Ms. Nunez has also worked with a middle school on their diversity committee. 

Throughout this school year, Ms. Nunez sincerely hopes to “infuse a love for learning languages and for appreciating the people and culture of the Spanish-speaking world,” which ties in to her passion for teaching. Ms. Nunez says that she was “inspired to become a teacher because through teaching, I feel you can empower students to follow their dreams and be advocates for themselves.” 

Outside of Pingry, Ms. Nunez enjoys cooking and taking part in different recreational activities with her two sons. When asked what she enjoys about Pingry, she says that she particularly admires the inquisitive nature students and honorable character of the students.