Grace Church School attempts to ground itself in the inclusion, equity and diversity. Grace consistently presents itself as an accepting environment. But does our community truly accept views that are slightly outside of our realm of comfort? Grace’s administration and faculty have constantly reminded students of our predominantly progressive values by bringing in liberal speakers and ideas into our classrooms. Amid the progressive discussions and atmosphere, do conservative opinions have a place at Grace?
The Faculty Diversity Council wrote, “Grace seeks to recognize and honor the unique gifts of its students, families, faculty and staff – and the cultures, beliefs, values, and experiences that have shaped them…” It is evident that our community attempts to embrace all perspectives and experiences. However, faculty members from the Diversity Council explained the limitations of recognizing the diversity of opinion. Mr. Andre, the Dean of Equity and Inclusion, spoke about how a diversity of opinions is necessary as long as fundamental human rights are not compromised; equality is the primary focus of the Diversity Council.
Despite our pursuit of inclusion, numerous students in the Grace community feel as if their conservative views are unwelcome. A student claimed, “Grace is essentially an echo chamber for liberal ideas and ideology. Although I am okay leaving my politics at the door, I do think that while the school may say they are open to political discourse, many students and even some teachers have a bias against conservatives. This certainly makes it difficult to voice opinions.” In an attempt to not be ridiculed for their right-wing views, this student chose to not use their name. They claimed they did not want their political party to be the only identifier for how people viewed them.
James Karasyov ‘20 spoke about his experience as a conservative. He commented, “I feel as if the school prides itself on being diverse in opinions. We oftentimes have liberal speakers, and I think the school sometimes fails to explore all viewpoints. Our speakers tend to be very far left, and I think part of the problem is that our student body is constantly surrounded by only one kind of political opinion.” James discussed that part of this discomfort is rooted in the lack of education many students have about conservative perspectives. James also spoke about his experience being generalized as a ‘racist’ because he identifies as a conservative; “I remember the fifth day of freshman year, someone said ‘oh you’re a conservative, so you’re racist?’ and I didn’t really understand why that was the first thing that they jumped to.” Grace believes in acceptance and inclusion, yet when conservative students speak on their beliefs, many resort to stereotyping. James claimed, “I think we live in a time where diversity of opinion is emphasized but not always followed through. There’s a spectrum of opinions but there’s such a stigma around opposing views.” James proposed the idea of having more speakers in Community Meetings who explore numerous political opinions. Rather than a “call to arms” reaction when an opposing viewpoint is spoken about, James hopes that Grace can become a place where the students are integrated and comfortable speaking about all points of view.
Henry Pallesen ‘21 explained that he identifies as a Moderate Democrat even though many students categorized his “not-so left” ideas as radical and conservative. Henry P. shared his experience at Grace as a Moderate Democrat. He reflected on a discussion about kneeling for the national anthem held in his literature class last year. “I remember voicing my opinion on the subject, in which I stated that I absolutely supported athletes’ right to kneel during the anthem but thought that there were better ways they could protest police brutality. In the week after I made those comments, I was repeatedly labeled as ‘controversial’ and ‘problematic.’ Some people went as far as to say that they weren’t going to vote for me in the upcoming Student Government election because of my opinion.” Henry also claimed, “too often people become so entrenched in their viewpoints that they assume that anyone who doesn’t exactly agree with them must be morally deficient. This problem isn’t going to change overnight, but we need to at least start talking about it. As a community, we need to be more cognizant of viewpoints that are different from our own. We need to place greater emphasis on the values of civil discussion and compromise.”
Some say the core of this stigma against conservatism is rooted in student’s fears to truly diversify their beliefs. Yet, other says, if Grace is ever to live up to its mission of diversity and inclusion, learning to open up is a good start.