GDS is often viewed by students as a well shielded place, where little to no harm comes to students and everyone is subject to the same treatment. There is an idea in the community that since the majority of people at GDS hold similar political beliefs, students are always protected from the discrimination so prevalent in the world outside GDS. Among GDS students, a well known phrase is the “GDS Bubble,” the idea that GDS is somehow isolated from greater society. It expresses the belief that GDS is a place where students are protected from the bigotry and hatred so present today, and that the so-called protective bubble surrounding students is impenetrable. Yet the truth is that there are instances inside GDS where members of the community have felt unsafe, unprotected and unheard.
As a part of the events over the summer in response to incidents of police brutality, non-Black people at GDS and outside of our community were urged by activists, scholars and regular citizens alike to reflect on ways their actions impacted members of the Black community. The Black Lives Matter movement urgently called for everyone to be more self-aware and self-conscious than ever before regarding race. Similarly, the movement allowed for Black people in America to reflect on ways they have been impacted by racism and bias. In our community, the Instagram page Black at GDS grew in popularity over the summer, allowing Black students, former faculty and alumni to share their experiences.
With nearly 198 posts, the account reveals the somewhat uncomfortable truth about racial incidents at GDS. Even though students like to refer to GDS as a safe space for each and every member of the community, not every student—and especially not every student of color—receives the same level of protection and comfort.
The most recent incident of someone getting into an online Zoom class and writing the n-word struck me as an example of how much work the world as a whole needs to do to fight racism, but also what work GDS needs to do as well. Many Black students feel as though there needs to be more transparency throughout the entire disciplinary process pertaining to racial incidents, from greater communication after the incident with the community to what action would be taken against perpetrators. “It’s important that they hold students accountable, because I’ve seen a lot of racism happening in the student body, way more than the administration thinks there is,” junior Leila Jackson, a Black student comments.
In February of last year, another disturbing incident occurred where the n-word was found near a portrait of former President Barack Obama at GDS. There was a school-wide assembly in which administrators addressed the community, informing us that the incident had been brought to their attention without specifying what happened. The assembly was held with good intentions, allowing people who needed the space to reflect on the incident. However, it felt as though GDS fell short on continuing needed dialogue afterwards.
Following the assembly, I gathered in my advisory, where we spent a painfully awkward ten minutes in silence as the two adults in the room asked questions about how we felt about the incident. However, once the advisory was dismissed, people returned to business as usual, becoming completely detached from what had just occurred, while I, along with other Black students, watched as the rest of the GDS community left us completely vulnerable, unsatisfied and in the dark.
“An annual racial reckoning would happen every single year,” said junior Sofia Greenfield, a Black student. “They would bring it up to surface level in the form of having a big assembly, and then look to the kids as if it was the student body’s responsibility to come up with a solution.”
The contrast between the two tones in GDS after the incident—indifference from non-Black students, discontent and exasperation from Black students—was stark. Walking into the DEI office, I was met by a group of both Black and non-Black students of color who needed more time and space to reflect on the issue. The feelings from the students inside the office displayed the frustration and neglect that Black students felt as a result of the incident. Outside of the office, I was met by faces of unconcerned and otherwise unaffected members of the GDS community.
It felt as though one of the recurring emotions among the Black student body at GDS regarding the incident was exhaustion. Black students at GDS have become so desensitized to casual racism, such as microaggressions, that their reactions weren’t laced with surprise. Instead, it was something close to acceptance. “Not a lot of Black students that I had talked to were genuinely surprised that this had happened,” junior Leila Jackson said. “They were expecting some kind of racial incident to happen.”
Jackson’s point brings up another aspect that Black students at GDS and at predominantly white institutions everywhere face: the desensitization of Black students to bigotry within their communities. Acts of discrimination and racial incidents areso common to Black students. Incidents as seemingly disconcerting as a derogatory slur being written over a student’s artwork are just an ordinary day in our lives. Casual racism is to be expected when you are in the minority of a student body population.
Other not so blatant incidents of discrimination come to my mind when I think about my time at GDS. Times when symbols of hate, such as swastikas and other instances of the n-word, have seeped into the GDS community. Times when I as a Black student, particularly a Black woman, have felt isolated, ignored and not taken seriously. Times where I’ve overheard students using the words “ghetto” and ‘ratchet’ to describe things deemed as lower class or trashy. Students, mainly white, mocking the need for social justice teach-in days, or complaining that GDS talks about race too much.
These combined incidents and things that I’ve witnessed, along with the others that other Black students on that Instagram page discuss, have made me think more deeply about the concept of who was actually protected and felt safe within the GDS community.
Nadia Fairfax ’22