A House Divided


Illustration by Raisa Effress

Family members argue at their dinner table about politics and differing opinions.

Averie Perrin

Turkey, cranberries and mashed potatoes lined Illi Kreiz’s ’24 Thanksgiving table. As she prepared to serve herself, Kreiz heard her sister begin  to argue with their close family friends about their opinions regarding the use of the N-word. Kreiz said these heated political discussions are commonplace during holiday dinners with her family and family friends. 

She said she was appalled when these friends began to debate whether white people should be able to say the N-word.

“We always talk about politics with these family friends, and at this dinner, everyone was white, but the older family friends [from] my parents’ generation were discussing whether or not white people should be able to say the N-word,” Kreiz said. “They were all like, ‘if certain [Black] people say it’s okay [to say], then it’s okay,’ but obviously [I said] it’s not okay. Non-Black people cannot say that word.”

Kreiz said she tried to help them gain a more informed perspective on the history of the slur. 

“I was like, ‘You guys actually cannot say that word,’” Kreiz said. “It carries a lot of history. Maybe you don’t get that, but I am happy to provide resources so you can educate yourself. This isn’t something that you can debate whether or not you can. I was kind of [horrified] that there are still people that think that it’s okay to behave that way.”

In addition to having political discussions, Kreiz said these guests also frequently make negative comments about her appearance and actions. 

“I wear a lot of eyeliner and they always comment on that, every single time I see them,” Kreiz said. “They’re like, ‘Do you still have eyes?’ When they found out that I was volunteering with the Karen Bass campaign, they absolutely flipped out on my parents and said ‘You have to stop her. She’s becoming a communist.’ It’s not worth taking these people’s opinions to heart.” 

Unlike Kreiz, Zoe Kramar ’24 said she tends to agree politically with the family she sees over the holidays but also appreciates when she is exposed to ideas different from her own. 

“I see my family, and I enjoy talking to them about politics because it’s interesting to hear more perspectives and allows me to check and reflect on my own political beliefs,” Kramar said. “I like to just hear a different point of view, either to influence how I think or make me feel more solidified in my own decisions. There are obviously certain family members where, if you know in advance that their beliefs can be upsetting to others, you may steer clear of certain topics, but generally, under the right circumstances, it can be beneficial.”

Although she said her family agrees on most topics, Kramar said some of her family members start debates to create conflicts with others.

“What I found is some of them are just playing devil’s advocate, like trying to get a rise out of people,” Kramar said. “If you know what someone’s political beliefs are, you can kind of take that route and it works in getting someone upset.”

Students discuss classroom dynamics

Allie Hunnius ’24  said she tends to have strong political opinions but tries to see the other person’s perspective before becoming defensive, especially with people she cares about.

“Whether or not you’re super strong in your beliefs and super opinionated, which I, as most people know, very much am, you still have to at least listen to the other thing before you can even begin to refute it,” Hunnius said. “Honestly, people say you have to and guide and educate [the other person], which I think is really annoying, because you’re not their elementary school teacher, and it’s actually not your job. But if you do care about this person and want to continue with a relationship, even when they maybe say some things that completely go against your worldview, it is important to have these discussions so that you can see the other person’s viewpoint and then at least try and reach consensus or move on.”

Hunnius said she observes many political discussions in her classes where the conversation only includes  one part of the political spectrum.

“Actually, as liberal as the school is, people don’t actually talk about their politics that often, or if they do, you really only talk about it with people that agree with you,” Hunnius said. “So you don’t actually know what other people’s opinions are. Yet, I think that there is a bubble because we are in LA, and this is a private school, so people are gonna have similar ideas. Honestly, I think in order to balance it out, we’re getting exposure to media and just generally at home because people are involved in politics, but that’s not super education-based one way or the other. It’s just a general sense that Harvard Westlake is left-wing.”

Hunnius said some dissenting opinions are better not shared with others.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s not good how everybody’s leaning so far on one side of the spectrum because others don’t feel comfortable sharing their views,’ but I don’t think that that’s true at all,” Hunnius said. “I just think people agree more and are trying to be more open. In history, sometimes there are some discussions where you tie it back into today’s world, but honestly, sometimes it is not a bad idea to keep your mouth shut.”

Felix* said he holds different political ideologies than both his immediate and extended family members. 

“Most of my family members are left of center or extremely left to center, anywhere from moderate liberal to socialists, so I don’t agree with a lot of what they say,” Felix said. “I’m mainly a conservative libertarian. My number one perspective is just [that] people should be able to do whatever they want, and the government shouldn’t  be involved in it, so I tend to lean right.”

Felix said the school community only publicly tolerates certain beliefs.

“At Harvard-Westlake, I try to keep my opinions to myself all the time, just because it’s not really an environment where that sort of thing [is accepted],” Felix  said. “There’s a lot of confirmation bias and then also just the idea that thinking differently isn’t really acceptable. Especially with faculty members, my concern is very frequently that my disagreeing with a faculty member about a political issue obviously could have a negative effect on my grades or something like that. I try to just sort of stay reserved, specifically for that reason.”

Felix said he takes on more liberal viewpoints when doing assignments or publicly stating his views, finding that students and faculty usually agree on a liberal point of view.

“I answer differently sometimes, especially with teachers who want to bring up political issues and make [them] homework assignments,” Felix said. 

“I will almost satirically answer and end up doing better than if I were to just give a genuine response. I think that’s very common as people are gonna just agree with what a teacher says and what their classmates are saying on what seems to be the popular opinion because that’s a much easier thing to do. Especially with a class where you have a graded assignment or even [regarding] a teacher’s opinion of you, it’s strategically just a smarter play in order to avoid ever having a teacher think negatively of you.”

Felix said alternative viewpoints, like the ones he holds, are not accepted in the school community because many people are intent on proving that their personal opinions are correct. 

“I absolutely do not feel comfortable sharing [alternative views],” Felix said. “When I disagree on a specific issue, I really can’t express that just because it so frequently turns into a disagreement where, instead of people trying to sort of broaden their idea of something, they just want to prove that they’re right. Harvard-Westlake is very competitive in that way, but I think that very quickly transfers over, as most people who might hear a class group expressing a view about something, and they might have an alternative view, just sort of stay quiet about it and leave it alone because it’s a much easier option”

Teacher discusses family political dynamics

History Teacher Dror Yaron said he often discusses political issues with family members and strives to dissect people’s different viewpoints.

“What I see at our dinners every Friday night, family gatherings or holidays and Thanksgiving, there’s always a dynamic, provocative engagement of ideas, and on political issues,” Yaron said. “What we avoid, as best as possible for the sake of an enriched environment, [are] echo chambers. We’d like to take ideas and dissect them from different points of view and understand even those that we might find so repugnant, and those that are hard to express.”

Yaron  said political discussions are a key part of the  American experience.

“It’s the beauty of this country, the fact that this [country] still is, irrespective of some of the convulsions and the undemocratic moments, a country that nurtures open discussion and inquiry,” Yaron said. “If you have historical knowledge, you should have a kind of optimistic evaluation that this country still has a civic space that’s open and engaged. It is our duty in schools to build that civic foundation of open inquiry and debate [that is] investigatory in discourse in understanding where we came from, who we are and where we emerge from here on. I do think it’s a very American thing to discuss.”

Yaron said exposure to different political opinions is necessary for growth.

“Viewpoint diversity really promotes inclusivity, being comfortable with uncomfortable ideas to really peel them in all their layers and then patch it up,” Yaron said. “So long as it’s done in a dignified, thoughtful manner, I would imagine that ‘heated’ is a good thing for provocative discussion.  You need that for growth to occur, need friction. You need discomfiture.”

* Name has been changed