Students asked questions about freedom of speech, curriculum and discussion of current events in Monday’s second Moving Forward meeting hosted by administrators and faculty members to continue discussions about diversity and inclusivity on campus.
The first meeting of this series was prompted by a recent controversy in which students used racial and homophobic slurs in social media posts. Because members of the Prefect Council hosted the first meeting, this meeting differed in that it allowed students to hear from some of the adults on campus and offer suggestions for ways to improve school policy and student behavior.
President Rick Commons, Head of Athletics Terry Barnum, Upper School Dean Chris Jones, Upper School Deans Department Head Beth Slattery and Science Teacher and Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club Adviser Nate Cardin attended the meeting, conducted as a student forum.
Students began the discussion by questioning free speech on campus, the presence of a speech code and what merits the school’s intervention in student affairs off-campus.
“When your desire for free speech comes in conflict with our community’s priority to take care of one another, then your individual liberty is not as strong as our community’s value,” Barnum said. “We are not okay with any students using the [n-word]. When we are faced with students using the word, we are going to look at it case-by-case and use the context of that individual case to determine what our official reaction will be, but in terms of a blanket statement, that is not the kind of word that should be used on campus.”
Some students wanted the administration to provide a clearer speech code while others were concerned that this would inhibit freedom of speech on campus.
According to the Leonard Law, all private and public high schools, colleges and universities and California must protect their students’ rights to freedom of speech and other communication that the government protects for all of its citizens.
In an effort to diversify the curriculum and identify new ways of approaching diversity, Commons announced that current Associate Director of Admissions Janine Jones will assume the position of Interim Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion while the school searches for someone to permanently take on that role by July 2018.
“One of my earliest requests to Ms. Jones is to organize our thinking about whether our policies need to be strengthened or tightened or clarified,” Commons said. “There are a lot of institutions, both schools and colleges or universities, that are struggling with how complicated this issue is. It’s much more complicated than academic integrity generally is, so it bears some real scrutiny and study as to whether we want to leave our policies as they are now and interpret them, or whether we want to tighten them and interpret them.”
Regarding the removal of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the sophomore English curriculum, Chris Jones said he was approached by teachers of students, particularly black students, who had been traumatized by the way the book was taught.
“Unless we’re at the point where we can teach the book responsibly, it was really difficult to continue to see these students struggle the way that they did,” Chris Jones said.
To ensure sensitivity on the topic of racism, Slattery said the teachers must become more comfortable having difficult conversations and must be trained well enough to teach the topic professionally.
Students also asked what a teacher’s obligation is to address current events or prevalent issues on campus in the classroom.
“The response can’t be nothing,” Cardin said. “If you’re my student now, a year from now, how much chemistry are you really going to remember versus a real life discussion that we are having as people and as humans who are taking care of each other?”