During GDS parent and Board member Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Senator Ted Cruz criticized the GDS curriculum, saying that the school is “filled and overflowing with critical race theory.” Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted, “Georgetown Day School, of which Judge Jackson is a board member, teaches kindergarteners that they can choose their gender.”
When I heard Cruz’s attacks on GDS for its commitment to social justice, anti-racism and inclusion, I was shocked. In what way is teaching children to accept themselves and address the hatred that plagues our society wrong? But then I realized, for those who aren’t marginalized by their identity, the idea of ever being excluded based on that factor is foreign.
In a diverse society like ours, where people have different identities, there must be a place where people are taught from a young age that every identity must be respected and accepted. Promoting these ways of thinking is just the commitment GDS has made to its students.
Before GDS I had attended several different schools. At these schools, I was mocked for my culture and my looks and had been told several times that I didn’t look like I was from America. After some time, I disconnected from my Indian heritage. I tried to blend in with the rest of my friends and I was embarrassed by who I was.
Soon after arriving at GDS my freshman year, I realized how different my high school experience was going to be.
GDS parent Sean Fine ’92 told The New York Times, “Our kids are not robots. They’re not told what to think, they’re taught how to question.” GDS students are open-minded because of the conversations that we have in class and the school’s encouragement of open discourse. We aren’t forced to think a certain way. Instead, our classes offer us the opportunity to form our own ideas. The classes I have taken, such as English, ninth grade seminar and Youth Participatory Action Research, have offered me the opportunity to have open discussions about my cultural identity with my peers and teachers.
In English, we have read classics such as The Great Gatsby and Northanger Abbey but we have also read books such as American Born Chinese and The House on Mango Street. Each of these stories delves into a character’s inner conflict with their identity and the marginalization they face. One book in particular that stood out to me was Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of stories by the Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri. It was the first book I read in a class written by an Indian-American author about Indian identity. As someone who is Indian, that representation was important to me because I could see my own personal experiences reflected in our curriculum.
These books prompted deep conversations in my classes, where students from different backgrounds talked about how identity played a role in their lives. One of these conversations focused on some of our varying experiences as either first or second-generation Americans. These rich conversations afforded me the opportunity to feel confident in my own culture.
Outside of the classroom, GDS’ affinity groups have played a role in my understanding of identity and inclusion. This year, I was co-head of South Asian Affinity, and we recently hosted the Holi festival. It was one of the few affinity group events that involved the entire student body. Up until the festival, the most I had done to share my identity with the school was send out an email announcing a monthly meeting—and, in hindsight, sending those emails took more courage than necessary.
During the Holi festival, while speaking to the entire high school, I was worried about how students would react to the tradition. I expected GDS students to think it was a photo-op rather than a tradition that is personal to South Asian members of the GDS community. When I saw people expressing curiosity and engaging in the celebration, I realized that I was the only one who needed convincing that South Asian culture would be welcomed by the school. Without the GDS community’s willingness and desire to celebrate so many different cultures, the celebration wouldn’t have been possible.
Now, nearing the end of eleventh grade and my third year at GDS, I can confidently say that GDS has made me into the person I am today. The single most important reason I chose to come to GDS, and why I’ve stayed, is because I feel that I belong and that GDS accepts all aspects of my identity, and if I don’t feel like I’m being treated fairly, GDS provides the resources, support and respect to voice my concerns.