Lab must set norms to live up to tolerance ethos

May 10, 2018

In the past month, a swastika was scratched into a middle school bathroom, the U-High Conservatives’ poster was torn up. In February, a homophobic slur was written on a middle school mural, and the word “Jew” was written on a wall in Judd Hall. We need to do a better job of setting community norms throughout all schools so that all members of our community are celebrated for their identities — an environment Lab prides itself on having but has not fostered lately.

Setting community norms begins early. It is important to make contact with younger students before and as they enter high school, including about 30 freshmen coming from different schools every year. Older students going into middle and lower school classrooms, speaking with and not to them as role models for behavior, will help younger students understand the dynamic of U-High and integrate more easily.

Although speaking with middle school students and freshmen should be student-driven, adults must create a space for students to build these connections. One possibility is to have Vertical Groups like at the middle school, where students from all grade levels meet once a quarter to do team-building activities.

Additionally, when incidents such as the recent acts of hate occur, an adult must step in  – through an assembly or otherwise — to say publicly that these expressions of hate and intolerance are unacceptable. The reaction to expressions of hate, especially those as severe as drawing a swastika or writing slurs, must go beyond a bulletin post or an email message. Otherwise, we won’t be able to effectively establish that hate is unacceptable in the Lab community.

Both the swastika and the U-High Conservatives incident fall under the same category of intolerance, but the swastika is an undeniable expression of severe hate, while ripping the conservatives club posters is rejection of different opinions. In order to address the issue of the U-High Conservatives’ poster, we need to use classes to teach the difference between hate speech and a differing opinion. 

Because Lab is almost universally liberal in terms of political views, differing political opinions are too quickly written off as hateful. Hate speech targets a minority based on race, sex, class, ethnicity, gender or religion, while a differing political opinion does not.

All members of the community — students, teachers and administrators — are responsible for setting community norms. By having clear norms for respectful conduct, incidents such as the recent ones will occur less frequently.

This editorial represents the opinion of the Midway’s Editorial Board.

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