When former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivered the annual GDS Ben Cooper Lecture, she regaled stories of her time as a war correspondent covering the Yugoslav wars and as a foreign diplomat. Power explained how it felt to be a woman in a male-dominated profession. After Power’s inspiring speech to a crowd of potential young journalists and policymakers, four male students asked questions. Power happily answered their questions but proceeded to ask, “Where are the ladies?” That comment sparked controversy around a larger debate about who takes up the most airtime during assemblies.
The next Monday, the Student Staff Council (SSC) minutes read, “At the Ben Cooper assembly, it felt as if some people were trying to explain foreign policy to the UN ambassador, who objectively knows more about it. This has happened before. This act is often boys explaining subjects they don’t know a lot about to very accomplished women, who are here specifically to talk about these subjects.”
The notes went on to describe the broader issue at play and went into detail about how noticeably more males speak.
“We got called out for that during the Ben Cooper assembly, but also mostly men raise their hands to talk, which creates a loop of inequity,” the SSC minutes said.
Many students had strong opinions regarding the email addressing assembly etiquette. The conversation continued in the club Student Voices and in informal settings around the school.
“I wouldn’t say it is a problem from one individual,” senior and SSC President Shonali Palacios said. “I definitely don’t want to single out any underclassmen for asking what could be perceived as a less respectful question. I don’t think that would be constructive. I recognize it takes a lot of curiosity and courage to stand up in front of the whole school and ask somebody something, but I think that we all need to be more self- aware when we ask questions.”
However, this problem is not only present at assemblies. Junior Oliver Satola says he has also recognized the trend in the classroom.
“There’s an excessive amount of intellectual posturing that goes on at GDS, both at assemblies and in our classrooms,” Satola said. “It’s just the nature of how we as students think. It’s as if classrooms are places where students go to share their prior knowledge instead of to learn. Questions should be opportunities to learn instead of showing how much you already know about a topic.”
Ideally, everyone should feel comfortable enough to raise their hand and ask a question, regardless of their gender. Evidently, this seems to not be the case. Moving forward, Satola has an idea about how can GDS promote constructive questions both in classrooms and assemblies.
“We should give the microphone to whoever wants to ask a question though it should be an expectation that the person asking the question will do so respectfully and with an open mind.”
By Amelia Myre ’20