Scott Allenby wrote a terrific blog this week about the importance of listening, of widening perspective, of hearing the other, and the emotions that students who are the minority feel when they navigate a community like Proctor. I want to pick up that theme and share some thoughts on affinity spaces, those places where those who share a common cultural or ethnic background can gather, rejuvenate, and simply be without being the “other.” These are important spaces.
Advisory Dinners are some of the best evenings of the semester, though scheduling them is not easy. Last Wednesday night my advisees came over for a meal, but we had to balance a JV Girls Soccer game at 4:00 pm, Open Gym at 6:15 pm for a basketball player, extra-help for a math student, and the time I needed to clean up my house, bake a lasagna and frost a birthday cake. I try to do a dinner for each advisee’s birthdays, letting them choose the meal and the kind of cake they desire, a tradition left over from my childhood. (My brother always chose fish-sticks, my sister never failed to opt for spaghetti.)
I was met by pigtail braids bouncing up and down as my daughter sprinted to the door asking me through her gap toothed, kindergarten smile to guess what she learned at school today. Before I could formulate a witty response, she blurted out, “Fair is not the same as equal!” I’ve always known this to be true, but how often do we fully appreciate our privilege relative to those around us? How often do we really wrestle with the difference between fairness and equality as it applies to our own lives? Living and working at a private boarding school in a quintessential New England town, I would submit it is not often enough.
Every year at Proctor is wholly new, yet remarkably familiar. The faces of students change over time, both as they mature and as the natural turnover of the student body every four years introduces new, eager minds ready to embark on their Proctor experience. While Proctor is not a school steeped in tradition, there are some rituals that occur each year at the same time, including the annual ninth grade hike to the Proctor Cabin.
To be different, to feel different, is one of the most uncomfortable feelings we experience. We have all had that moment where we gave the wrong answer, wore the wrong outfit, had the wrong haircut, or publicly failed in front of someone else. That sinking, punch to the gut feeling of being noticed because we are different doesn’t go away easily, however, for most it fades over time. Those moments of being highlighted for our differences are fleeting, interspersed with a normalcy of fitting in alongside our friends. Unfortunately, society does a terrific job defining ‘normal’ for us, and it is up to us to constantly recenter ourselves around what we share with others, rather than our differences.
I visited six freshman seminar classes in Shirley Hall this week, enjoying the chance to get a read on who will help us build and sustain the Proctor community over the next four years. The intent of this one term program is to help ground these incoming students, answer questions for them, and help them center down for the next four years.
When Lindsey Allenby gathered the senior class after assembly on Monday for their class photo, I looked over. There was a lot laugher, some kidding around, and the mood was upbeat and positive. Lindsey snapped pictures, the group scattered, and it was only later, reflecting on the class, that I thought about the background hum of stress coursing through the group. When the college process peaks in the fall of senior year, the pressures can mount to unreasonable and unhealthy levels.