Earlier this week, students and faculty gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a program which is part of the school’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion and help students feel safe, seen, and supported.
After a musical performance and a presentation from the guest speaker on Sunday night, students broke into groups and participated in various workshops the next day. These small groups allowed students to discuss ways in which racism is still present in our modern world and how it persists in the Hotchkiss community.
The MLK Day program offers us a unique opportunity to step back, acknowledge the existence of these issues, and brainstorm how we can, both as a community and as individuals, continue working towards creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.
However, there is a tendency for students to treat programs such as MLK day as a one-time thing. Students will show up and listen, but fail to apply what they’ve learned to future situations. The school may organize these events, but making sure they have a lasting impact requires the continued engagement of all individuals in our community. Many of us recognize the value and importance of diversity, but it’s important that we demonstrate our support and actively commit ourselves to celebrating diversity in our community.
You might wonder, what can I do to combat racism? I have no major position of influence over my peers. As the speaker, Annika Lescott ’06, mentioned, however, you can affect change at various levels. Although some might attend marches and involve themselves in activism, small acts of courage are equally important. For example, standing up to someone who jokingly uses a racial slur rather than being a bystander shows that any form of hate, whether a product of malicious intent or ignorance, will not be tolerated in our community.
Microaggressions, which can appear in the form of racist jokes, perpetuate and normalize biases and prejudices. It can be uncomfortable to confront people, especially if they are your friends, but it is important to engage in these difficult conversations. Saying nothing and staying silent can signal that such acts are allowed to exist in our community without reprimand. Speaking up also lets people know that racist comments are not okay here at Hotchkiss.
Creating diversity and fostering inclusion requires concerted, continuous effort. Following the discovery of various anti-Semitic symbols over the past two years, Hotchkiss has done a lot to improve its diversity and inclusion efforts. Dr. Myer’s Community Conversations, the visit from the Anti-Defamation League, and MLK Day events all aim to educate the community and eliminate ignorance.
However, students also need to reaffirm their personal commitments to building a community in which everyone feels like they can, as stated on MLK Day, “keep it real.” Creating lasting change in the fight against prejudice falls not only on the Administration, but on each individual who makes up this community.