How Long?
Tad Roach

 

It is August, a time of anticipation, preparation, and excitement for schools across the country. Students are buying back-to-school clothes and supplies. Parents quietly hope that their children will soon meet teachers who are skilled, kind, accepting, and thoughtful.

As educators, we have enough time in August to remind ourselves of the sacred and inspiring mission and work of schools.

We teachers prepare our courses and classrooms. We know we are sharing the wisdom, habits of mind and heart, recognitions, discoveries, and explorations that have led our country and world into both miracles and disasters.

We try to help our students find their way to creative expressions of peace, humanity, and solidarity as they study the human story in all its complexity.

We pledge on these August days to educate in such powerful ways that our students will succeed us with courage, grace, and honor. Maybe, just maybe, they as citizens will love fiercely enough to begin to heal and rescue a fallen world. 

We start by building cultures within our classrooms and schools, emphasizing the dignity of all in our communities and especially looking out for anyone who seems uncertain, insecure, invisible, or frightened.

Our students in this generation seem remarkably eager to respect and honor one another; they actively seek others who have different experiences, cultures, viewpoints, identities. They seek unity in diversity. The are impatient with ideologies of hatred, division, intolerance, and fear. They look at the adult world of paralysis and fear with growing contempt and impatience. 

It is August, and we could say that the events in El Paso last weekend remind us of what we witnessed in Charlottesville two years ago when ancient and poisonous hatred, prejudice, and violence suddenly sought expression and erupted on the streets of a town dedicated in large part to education. We sadly are not surprised at the early designation of the massacre as a “hate crime”, for we know that we in America continue to deny or forget just what happens when we demonize, objectify, and scapegoat the Other.

We have declared victory again and again in this country against these forces of hatred, only to find that as long as we have despair and desolation in our land, the sparks of hatred and division can always be ignited again. Those who worship hatred, intolerance, racism, and violence find affirmation from one another on the internet and yes, they hear, honor, respond to mainstream voices that deliberately or foolishly encourage and profit from vitriol and violence.  

We have held celebrations of how much we have learned and how far we have come in America, only to return to moments like these.

We put guns into everyone’s hands.

As schools open in the wake of these shootings this month, I say again to the politicians on the left and right that it is completely unacceptable for children to be arriving and schools to be opening this year with the ever-present threat of shootings in our midst. 

It is contrary to a free society, to our democracy, and to the principles of education.

It is unspeakable to ask a generation of children to run, hide, or fight in a school dedicated to learning, collaboration, and engagement in the community. 

It is a complete failure of our democratic government to ask teachers to awaken young minds and at the same time prepare for the violence of warfare in the hallways. 

It is appalling that law enforcement personnel know that at any moment they must put their lives on the line to protect our community’s precious and innocent children.

Our colleagues in education throughout the world wonder why American schools operate in a culture of lockdowns, gates, and security screenings. They wonder what happened to the promise and spirit of the world’s greatest democracy.

Yet here we are again, lighting candles of mourning, solidarity, and sympathy, preaching love and peace, while the threats remain unaddressed, unmentioned, and untouched. For over twenty years now, our schools and colleges, churches, mosques, synagogues, concerts, movie theatres, malls, stores, and public spaces have been subjected again and again to violence and human carnage. We do nothing.

St. Andrew’s mourns the deaths caused by shootings in Dayton, El Paso, and Gilroy.

We again ask, “How Long?"
 

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Alum Jamie O'Leary '14 Shares Her Feminist Research & Activism With Students
Alum Jamie O'Leary '14 Shares Her Feminist Research & Activism With Students
Liz Torrey

Alum Jamie O'Leary '14 was back on St. Andrew's campus this Thursday to give a presentation on feminism to students and faculty at School Meeting. While on campus, she also visited with various classrooms (History of Religious Thought, History of Social Reform, and Global Studies), and led a discussion on gender relations with faculty. Jamie is a sophomore at Princeton, and during her time there has become very involved in feminist activism and gender studies research, both at Princeton and in her off-campus life. She credits the gap year she took before matriculating at Princeton as being foundational to her interest in gender dynamics.

"After St. Andrew's, I went to Senegal," Jamie said. "Princeton has this program called the Bridge Year Program, where you can take a year off and do service work and learn another language. I taught English at an NGO [in Senegal] called SOS Children's Villages, and learned French and Wolof, and lived with a homestay family. I loved it, and I feel like it helped me figure out what I want to do—it started my interest in feminism. I spent a lot of time noticing gender-power dynamics while I was in Senegal, and when I came back to the States, I continued noticing the same kind of dynamics. I thought—Wow, there's so much going on here that I never noticed before, that maybe I've been programmed not to notice. So that kind of got me going."

Jamie plans to declare as an Anthropology major with a Gender and Sexuality Studies minor (and perhaps an African Studies minor as well). Since arriving at Princeton in the fall of 2015, she's spent many of her school breaks traveling and continuing to explore gender relations around the world. She participated in a week-long exchange program with Cambridge University, traveled to South Africa with the Princeton Glee Club (of which she is a member), and has participated in a Princeton-led "alternative break" in New York City, through which students explored potential careers in feminism and met with a number of feminist NGOs—"that was another thing that kind of got me started on my feminist trajectory," Jamie noted. This past summer, Jamie studied abroad in Spain, then returned to New York to spend two months working at UN Women (the UN's gender rights advocacy organization), where she conducted research on religion's impact on gender equality.

"Princeton has given me so many opportunities to get funding and travel," Jamie said. She recalled how, while visiting a St. Andrew's Global Studies class earlier in the day, she had encouraged students to follow her strategy of applying for as many of these kinds of opportunities as possible. "My advice was, just fill out every application that comes in front of you, even if you're not totally sure you want to do it, even if it's going to take some time to apply. You might as well apply and see where it leads."

This past fall, Jamie organized a "Why Feminism" photo campaign for Princeton students, in which she asked students to write their reasons for being a feminist on whiteboards, then take a photo of themselves holding the whiteboard. (You can see the results at https://princetonfeminists.wordpress.com/.) "More than 350 people participated," Jamie said. "We got people talking about the word feminism and the pros and cons of it." As an outgrowth of that project, Jamie then founded (with support from the university's Women's Center) Princeton Students for Gender Equality, an undergraduate organization that facilities feminist-focused discussions and events.

"I knew a ton of feminists [at Princeton], I heard all of these great feminist conversations happening, there were feminist speakers coming to campus—feminism was present, but it wasn't centralized," Jamie explained. "There was no weekly space for undergrads to discuss issues, there was no network. What Princeton Students for Gender Equality does is provides a space for discourse, and shares information about feminist events and opportunities of interest." The group has also hosted its own events, including a "Menstruation Celebration" designed to demystify and destigmatize the period.

St. Andrew's physics teacher John Burk invited Jamie back to campus to speak to students after learning of her involvement in gender equality work through the Princeton Students for Gender Equality Facebook page. In her presentation at School Meeting, Jamie asked students to consider the ways in which gender "norms" might impact their own behavior, how they perceive and discuss others, and the School's culture as a whole. She also shared some simple actions students can take to support gender equity in their everyday lives. On Thursday evening, Jamie hosted a pizza dinner for interested students in the Dining Hall and led further discussion on ways both girls and boys can not only identify as a feminist but actually engage in feminist actions and work.

"Feminism was not at the top of my priority list when I was a student at St. Andrew's," Jamie recalled. "I do think that there's a lot of space where feminist conversations can be had at St. Andrew's. On sports teams and dorms, there's a really great built-in structure where these conversations could be placed. And a lot of the teachers I spoke with today mentioned that a lot of students at the School today are very vocal about feminist issues, which is awesome."

When asked to reflect further on her own experience at St. Andrew's, Jamie acknowledged that the School has had "a huge impact on my life. Was I prepared to handle the work at Princeton? Yes—way more than a lot of my peers, thanks to St. Andrew's. I transitioned into college having the writing skills to write really strong papers, and even present at conferences. But also socially and personal growth-wise, St. Andrew's set me up to have the confidence to speak up in class and to feel like what I had to say was valuable; to have the confidence to take risks; to have the confidence to be a leader and have experience and practice with that. St. Andrew's taught me to trust myself; taught me that I could take something on—to start a project and complete it; taught me how to approach adults, ask for help, talk to teachers; taught me how to live with others."

"It's taken up to about now to realize just what an impact it really has been," Jamie concluded.