Bursting the Baldwin Bubble
39%. That’s 228 of our 584 students who are not white. This statistic is proudly displayed on our website as a beacon for prospective families, a place where we boast about our ability to draw students not only from other counties but from other states. Baldwin is a safe haven, a picturesque sanctuary for learning and growth, away from the -isms and -phobias that plague the rest of society. Once you pass through those gates for the first time, we claim, you check your bags at the door and are now liberated to learn and think for yourself. Well, just how freely can we think? According to our website and copious marketing materials, the Baldwin mind knows no bounds. But those 228 students would beg to differ.
How would they describe their experience at Baldwin? Sophomore Da’Naira Dent ‘19 noted, “hidden discrimination.” Her classmate Niara Johnson ‘19 elaborated, saying that, “As a student of color, I am not guaranteed the respect, justice, and protection that I deserve in the way that my white counterparts are.” This can take many forms. Often times students of color aren’t afforded the same benefit of the doubt as their peers. Savannah Sanford ‘19 also added, “We feel that our problems or fears may not be as prioritized as those of a non minority student.” Why is this happening? We’re a school with numerous affinity groups that host events dedicated to creating dialogue around the issues that the minorities in our community face, so shouldn’t that translate into a broader sense of unity in our community? Well, it turns out that there’s more of a disconnect than an outsider looking in would expect.
Yes, we do have discussions, and meetings, and movie nights, but how far can the messages that come from these events reach? Do they only speak to the insular and affirmative parts of the community? Any attempt to create a productive conversation about controversial topics, particularly about race, by the administration is undermined by the perceived need to remain bipartisan. This noncommittal attitude only affirms the privileges of majority students and further alienates minorities.
According to Johnson, the assembly held the day after the presidential election is an example of a time when, in an attempt to support everyone, the administration isolated the students who really needed the comforting. As she said, “It demeaned the feelings of those who actually attended the assembly (those who were really distraught, numb, and overwhelmed with emotion), and deflected away from the real issue: how the result of the election may very well put minorities and marginalized groups (such as women, LGBTQ+, Muslims, and undocumented individuals) in danger.” Dent agreed, continuing, “I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to be told just get over something that could so greatly impact the futures of the girls, their loved ones, and the nation as a whole, especially by someone who can’t relate to your situation.”
Baldwin is a passionate advocate for supporting fellow females, and now is a time that we need that unity more than ever. Life goes on while we’re sheltered behind our iron gates from eight to three, and it’s unrealistic to expect for students to enter school each day with a clean emotional slate, unaffected by the more troubling aspects of our society. What needs to be done?
Sanford believes that “there should be a mandatory Monday assembly on the topic of race as well as other lunch discussions.” Dent said that “[the Administration] should understand and respect the issues that we bring to them instead of dismissing them.” Johnson agreed with her classmates, concluding that “it would be somewhat comforting to see that the Administration was there to actually stand behind us people of color and instead of speaking over us, understand what we have to bring to the table, why we have to say what we say, and what they can do as people in positions of power to benefit us so that we can equate to our fellow white students.”
Baldwin prides itself on being at the forefront of educating the next generation of forward thinkers, but its students will not reach that if we continue only to address issues in which we know our thoughts will be echoed by our classmates. It’s easy to talk about feminism under the guise of difficult conversation when we attended an all-girls school where everyone shares the experience of being a woman. Less than half of our student body is anything other than white, which makes their experiences and narratives even more deserving of amplification moving forward. In the words of Johnson, “Progressing is about crossing barriers of discomfort; you can never understand the perspective of an oppressed classmate if you are not willing to admit how you impact that oppression (as an oppressor/as a bystander), what that impact means, and how you can use your privilege effectively.”