Being considerate in the classroom

“Harvard-Westlake is a diverse and inclusive community.”

Many would argue for an amendment to this famous line of our school’s mission statement — “Harvard-Westlake is supposed to be a diverse and inclusive community.” Whatever your opinion may be, there’s an aspect to this that I, at least, haven’t heard anyone address, from Mr. Commons to students on the quad: diversity and inclusivity in the classroom.

Although I could definitely wind up changing my mind, I’ve been planning to get my MD/PhD since before I got here in 7th grade, and unsurprisingly, this means a lot of math and science courses.

Unfortunately for me, however, these subjects are not my strong suits, but this has been my dream for a good portion of my life now, and I’m not going to let something like being so-called right-brained stop me. Instead, I just work harder to make up for not being naturally good at these things, just as anyone in any difficult class would.

However, sometimes I still don’t understand the concepts come class time, but really, that’s okay. We’re fortunate enough to have some amazing teachers here at Harvard-Westlake who are more than willing to answer questions during class, and the seemingly obvious solution would be to simply use this class time to get the extra help I need.

Well, obvious until you take into account that if others perceive my question as “stupid,” I’ll have to deal with a chorus of laughter, snide jokes, and lots of well-meaning yet very unhelpful and loud suggestions from classmates before getting my answer. So, more often than not, students like myself wind up meeting with their teachers for things as simple as homework questions because they’re too intimidated to use class time. This in theory would be fine, except that as we all know, Harvard-Westlake students tend to have a million other activities and classes, and this outside of class time can really add up for both the student and the teacher.

This problem is really just a result of not translating the same inclusivity we have as a community into the classroom.

Most, if not all students understand that a school community that is diverse racially, economically, politically, etc. will benefit students by creating well-rounded, aware citizens of the world rather than sheltered and narrow-minded people who have been raised in a bubble– the school’s beaten this idea to death over the past few years, and for good reason, and it’s undeniable that we’ve come a long way.

We’re close to a balanced total gender ratio in STEM courses. It’s rare to see a class without at least one person of color. However, diversity of thought and inclusivity when it comes to differences in skill level are still severely lacking. Why is it okay to disregard the opinions of the lone conservative student in a history class or sigh condescendingly when “that one kid” asks yet another obvious question? Why can’t we extend the same tolerance we show our peers in every other aspect of life into the classroom?

So what’s the solution?

Not laughing at classmates when they ask a question you think is stupid is a good place to start. I’ll admit that I’ve done it this before, and I doubt that anyone actually means it in a rude way.

Regardless, we all still need to be conscious of how our actions may come off, regardless of our intentions, and remember that asking a question in class inherently puts one in a vulnerable position.

Also, students aren’t the only ones at fault here. Some teachers will create an environment that doesn’t encourage participation for fear of ridicule, either by the students (and permitted by the teacher) or by the teacher themselves. I don’t know if this is wittingly or not, but the fact of the matter is that it happens, and the only way to eliminate this problem is to first become aware of it.

Becoming aware of these issues is a huge first step in fixing them. Start conversations. If you see people in class giving someone a hard time for a “stupid question,” call them out for it. Bring it to the teacher’s attention, because they might not even notice. If your teacher is one who creates an uncomfortable class environment, talk to your friends, dean, or the teacher themselves to see how you can work together towards a solution. Together, maybe we can actually translate the diversity and inclusivity we hold so dear into the classroom.

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