Despite the common belief that the Grace student body is primarily liberal, there are a number of students who identify as conservative. While some students are unafraid of sharing their right-of-center views, many are hesitant because they believe that such viewpoints are not tolerated at Grace Church School. One anonymous student was frustrated with the school’s efforts to encourage voter registration, saying, “We clearly know what side they want us to vote for.” The student acknowledged that it was important for young people to get involved in politics, but felt that the administration is predominantly liberal and that liberal views inevitably creep into the curriculum.
Not all students agreed with this assessment. Most students agree that Grace is liberal but dispute the idea that conservatives are devalued. Ellie Paton ‘20 acknowledged that it might be intimidating for a conservative student to express themselves at a largely liberal school, but remarked that, “All the teachers and students are accepting of other beliefs and are just curious to understand them.” Manavi Sinha ‘21, a self-described liberal, admitted that a person with conservative views might get backlash because their opinions are unpopular, but argued that the school is not actively promoting liberal viewpoints. She claimed, “It’s not like you must believe in gun control or you must be pro-choice.”
The most telling result of these interviews was how much the conservative opinions diverged from the liberal opinions at Grace. Most liberals were confident that Grace was an open-minded place but rarely disputed that there was a tendency to favor liberal views. However, according to conservative students, the problem goes deeper than the student body. An anonymous student claimed that, “Many of the teachers at Grace are very liberal, so they all teach at a liberal point of view. No teacher really teaches from a conservative or unbiased point of view.”
When asked about the politics of the school, Mr. Mahabir acknowledged that the atmosphere at Grace might be difficult for conservative students, saying that, “Just by virtue of being in the minority, they’re worried that they can feel outnumbered.” He stressed that Grace has neutral politics that do not privilege any particular viewpoint. He did, however, admit that certain values promoted at the school might clash with the beliefs of highly conservative individuals. Mr. Mahabir described the school’s intolerance for “verbal violence,” which he defined as when someone “deliberately denigrates and attacks someone on the basis of their identity, their person, their race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, culture, language.” A desire to prevent verbal violence is probably not controversial, but there is no doubt that conservatives and liberals have different definitions of what is offensive, raising the argument of whether the school should limit any speech because limitations are inherently biased and prioritize some voices over others. One of the anonymous students previously quoted lamented how in today’s society, “Someone is offended by every little thing that’s said.” Another student complained that he felt white males were not given the chance to express their opinion. He described a situation where fellow students doubted his ability to understand what it meant to be oppressed, referring to the conversation as a form of “reverse racism.”
While some dispute that Grace leans liberal, Mr. Pennoyer, the Assistant Head of School and the Director of Studies, explained that it is all relative, saying, “From St. Ann’s’ perspective, we are more conservative… from the perspective of the school that I came from, St. Bernards, I think we are far more progressive.” Considering the majority of the New York City population is liberal, it is not surprising that Grace’s population follows the same trend. While Grace may represent the demographics of New York, it is far left of the general population. As many conservative students have requested anonymity in this article, it seems apparent that conservative students do not feel like they have a voice in the community. Mr. Pennoyer said that in the current political climate, incivility is all too common, but argued that, “A school is weaker if a teacher can’t allow for there to be a conversation.”
Such conversations can be started in a variety of ways. After the Parkland shooting, many Grace students staged a walkout to protest gun violence. When asked if conservative students would be hypothetically allowed to organize a pro-life student walkout, Mr. Mahabir stated, “I think it would be difficult… it could be done, but it would have to be done very carefully,” and there would have to be a larger reason like when Grace had the gun control walkout to protest recent school shootings. Mr. Mahabir said that a pro-life walkout would be “situational,” and finished by urging that we should observe “mindful speech.”
To see how other schools respond to their political climate, I interviewed my brother, Andres Zubillaga, who attended Collegiate School. He said, “Collegiate had a pro-life walkout my senior year. Collegiate has… a largely liberal student body, so the turnout for the pro-life walkout was pretty small, but what was interesting was that there were people that walked out, not because they are pro-life, but because they were in support of people being allowed to express their viewpoints… There was really no sort of backlash from the student body… Conservative viewpoints are not always accepted, but there is not a huge stigma at Collegiate about being a conservative.” In response to the issues surrounding our political climate at Grace, here is what some students had to say.
“Not only are they [conservative students] undervalued, but they are not accepted by the community. If someone finds out that I support our president, I immediately see a shocked face looking back at me as if I’m doing something wrong. I think that the curriculum at Grace forces liberal ideas on students who may not believe in these same ideas.”
– Anonymous student
“Our school is definitely not bipartisan. There are some rash reactions that are a bit aggressive, but I feel like the liberal presence at Grace is so big that everyone expects that everybody else is liberal. This makes it hard for them to digest when somebody else has another opinion.”
– James Williams ‘19
I think that there is substantial, systemic liberalism of the place. The fact that they are telling us to register to vote and we clearly know what side they want us to vote for. Also, in a lot of the classes, the teachers have very opinionated statements about politics today.”
“I think that Grace definitely leans towards liberal and the school environment promotes these liberal views… I am not sure if that’s a problem, but I think that if you are conservative it can feel that you are a little bit ostracized”.
– Soleil Andrews ‘19
”I think a lot of people disagree with conservative views so that when somebody does voice an unpopular opinion to this particular community, they do get backlash. There is definitely a liberal voice to our school, but I personally support it because it’s not like ‘you must believe in gun control’ or ‘you must be pro-choice.’”
– Manavi Sinha ‘21
“I think everyone [conservatives and liberals] are valued the same.”
– Akira Bregman ’22
“I think that a lot of teachers at Grace are very liberal, so they all teach at a liberal point of view. No teacher really teaches from a conservative point of view”.
– Anonymous student