Jordan Merlin-Jones, Sidwell Friends '16

Sidwell is a special place for many reasons, but we are not an exception simply because Quaker values are woven into the fabric of our education. Racism, homophobia, sexism, and all other forms of oppression exist in every corner of the world, so why wouldn’t they exist within the walls of our community? In case it wasn’t already apparent, they do exist here at Sidwell, and I think it is important to acknowledge this so we can work toward making the community better.

In discussing the work we still have to do as a community, I don’t mean to be alarmist. But I do want to stress the urgency and the importance of addressing these issues. Because while we might not have students parading around with confederate flags, we do have students who tell racist jokes and make hurtful assumptions about one’s academic and athletic ability based on their race. Even when these comments are said in a joking manner, but it is important to keep in mind that discriminatory comments and stereotypical, jokes, or remarks regarding one’s identity can contribute to the “othering” or marginalization of people in this community. These verbal (or nonverbal) interactions are called microaggressions.

Microaggressions perpetuate stereotypes related to- race, class, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and/or ability, - and they hold the power to shape how we think about different groups of people. Often without realizing it, microaggressions effectively police members of our community by projecting images of how marginalized groups such as women, African Americans, or homosexuals should act and speak. For example, we have all heard sexist comments, but how often do we stop and think about the lasting implications that those small comments or remarks have on the people around us? Not often enough.

Comments that suggest that a woman’s place is in the home looking after her children and husband are not only extremely limiting for women in terms of their ability, but also their sexuality. Comments about women’s “purity” (or lack thereof) greatly repress women’s sexuality. Not only do these comments generally imply a heterosexual norm and a reinforcement of domesticity and servitude as key components to a woman’s worth, those comments also allow men to think that they have the right to police a woman on what she is and is not able to do with her body. Students and teachers shouldn't have to feel like they have to leave parts of themselves at home out of the fear that their true identity won’t fit into the mold of our community. We are telling people how to be and who to be instead of allowing them to define that for themselves.

The language we use is an incredibly important part of how we communicate with each other. How can we become more mindful about how we speak to each other, the language that we use, and what we are really saying when we speak?

I think most members of this community can agree that Sidwell is often a stressful environment to be in. It is no secret that the students, teachers, and other staff members work very hard to keep our school running like a well oiled machine. I also


think that most of us can agree that with all of the pressure to excel - whether it be externally or internally imposed - is enough without the added stress of feeling like you don’t belong because of one or more aspects of your identity.

When we are at school we should be able to focus on getting an education, building healthy relationships with friends, and working on being creative, open-minded students with a passion for learning (amongst other things). We should not have to worry about feeling unsafe, feeling like we’re not accepted, or feeling like in order to be accepted we have to change into something we are not so that we can better “fit” into someone else’s expectations of who we should be.