The first line of the school Mission Statement reads: “Harvard-Westlake strives to be a diverse and inclusive community.” Lately, we have found ourselves thinking a lot about what that means. Issues of injustice and prejudice dominate national headlines, and college campuses in particular have come under scrutiny for matters ranging from racism to religous intolerance. But these issues, and the mindset that drives them, are also relevant to our school community.
Harvard-Westlake places a high premium on tolerance. We emphasize our financial aid program and its importance in fostering socioeconomic diversity. Our website features photos of pioneering alumni, such as the first openly gay NBA player Jason Collins ’97 and the first American woman in space Sally Ride ’68, as well as recent speakers, like Little Rock Nine member Terrence Roberts and Paralympian runner Blake Leeper.
Of course, inclusivity goes beyond tolerance and celebrating pioneers. Students, parents, teachers and administration alike must actively work to promote diversity in all its forms. That means supporting the number of qualified students who are on financial aid, right now at about 17 percent. That means hiring teachers from a wide range of backgrounds; currently there isn’t a single African-American teacher at the Upper School. That means supporting students of color, and eliminating commonly-heard offensive phrases such as “he only got into college because he’s Hispanic.” A lot of this is already being attempted — and done — by the administration. That’s great, and we salute the school for it. But that shouldn’t stop us from continuing to aim for loftier goals.
While we want to promote diversity, we also recognize that there are a variety of practical barriers that the administration faces in doing so. That’s why it’s also important to acknowledge that regardless of everyone’s good intentions and best efforts, our school will always to a certain extent exist in a bubble. That’s not something to apologize for — a bubble of caring teachers and curious students in fine facilities is hardly a bad thing — but it is an essential fact to recognize and bear in mind as we move into the wider world. Nor are we completely sheltered from some of life’s harsher realities, as this issue’s story on sexual assault demonstrates.
By the same token, though we are part of a community that strives to be open-minded, other places may not be so. Most students will go on to college in different parts of the country, and will likely encounter attitudes and actions different from their own. That’s something we should be prepared for and combat using the tools and attitudes that our time at Harvard-Westlake has given us.
There is a reason these issues are still issues. They are complex and multi-faceted, and face resistance even from those who would consider themselves open-minded. As an institution whose mission is to mold the next generation of leaders, it’s important we recognize that and continue do our best to change it.