The welcome page of the GDS website advertises that “at GDS, we cultivate a warm, diverse, inclusive community, where we nurture and support students to become comfortable with who they are.” While GDS makes this claim, can the school back it up? Is inclusivity really encouraged, even when it comes to political views that fall outside of the GDS mainstream?
As somebody who’s been at GDS for nearly ten years, I have serious doubts that this school is inclusive of people with views that differ from those of the majority of the GDS community, especially political views.
Throughout my time at the school, I have been encouraged by my teachers, peers and the broader GDS community to think from a liberal perspective on the political issues built into the GDS curriculum.
I am still trying to figure out my political identity, but the GDS community has not supported my efforts to learn about different perspectives. In fact, many people have discouraged me from exploring opinions that differ from the GDS norm.
A specific example of people discouraging me was during minimester this year, when students and teachers take a break from classes for a three-day deep dive in a topic of their choice. I decided to take A View From the Other Side, where we talked with people whose views differ from the GDS liberal majority. We were able to talk to GDS alumni who grew up in our same liberal community but found themselves with more conservative views.
When I excitedly brought this minimester up, one of my classmates seemed appalled and said she did not understand why I was taking that course. She didn’t know why I wanted to learn from a bunch of “old, white men” whose “opinions don’t matter.”
The opportunity to be exposed to other viewpoints was so important to me that I decided to take the same minimester course two years in a row. Since kindergarten, I’ve lived in a GDS echo chamber of mainly liberal views. I want to be able to learn about different perspectives—not solely those shared by the majority of the GDS community. As students, we are learning about and forming our views of the world. It’s hard to do that when we are only exposed to some of our options.
I was also in a situation where during a casual conversation in class, several of my classmates were speaking rudely about a teacher because they discovered online that he was a registered Republican. They claimed he was a bad person and began to make several assumptions about him based on his political views. When I tried to say that we had no idea where he stood on certain issues, I was completely shut down. They said to me that it didn’t matter what he thought, and it was an issue that he was a Republican. One student said she didn’t understand why I was even defending the teacher.
The administration wants us to engage in discussions with people we don’t share the same beliefs with, but many students here stereotype conservatives as women-hating, pro-life, God- and gun-loving people. However, many conservatives I’ve met are economically conservative but socially liberal, sharing the same views on abortion, gun-control and LGBTQ legislation as my liberal GDS peers. But GDS students wouldn’t know that because we are all stuck in the GDS bubble, where most of us think all conservatives have radically different views from us.
In eighth grade, all students were required to write a paper discussing one constitutional issue. I chose affirmative action. For this paper, my peers and I interviewed several people who had a range of thoughts about the topic. Despite agreeing with the conclusions of many of my classmates, I was scared to mention other perspectives because my teacher seemed to think that we should all agree that affirmative action was good. I was afraid of the backlash I might have faced from my peers or teachers for even mentioning other viewpoints.
When I discussed writing this piece with one of my close friends, his immediate reaction was “Oh, so you’re Republican.” This conversation captures the issue: People here can be quick to assign a label to a political viewpoint that they disagree with while at the same time preaching about how stereotypes are bad.
If it is true, as I believe it is, that the inclusivity GDS espouses doesn’t apply to certain political views, what should be done? I can think of at least three things.
First, the tone at the top should change: The school’s leaders and administrators are in a position to change the culture at this school. They should make clear that intolerance of diverse viewpoints of any stripe is not acceptable and goes against the community’s desire for an inclusive environment. The administration needs to make it clear that all viewpoints should be discussed and debated. Otherwise, not only will students be ill-equipped to defend their views when they leave GDS, but students like me will struggle to find what those views are.
The GDS bubble is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, it’s nice to be shielded from the nasty horrors of the world, but the bubble can make us narrow-minded if we aren’t exposed to people who don’t agree with us.
Second, teachers should ensure that all students’ viewpoints are not only encouraged but are drawn out during class discussions. It is only through this kind of conversation and discourse that students can arrive at their own well-formed views.
Third, the school must make more concerted efforts to foster a diversity of viewpoints by bringing in external speakers during assemblies and other public gatherings where students can have the opportunity to hear a diverse range of opinions.
None of this should be controversial. I may leave GDS holding many if not all of the same left-leaning views that most of my classmates seem to hold; that’s all the more reason to encourage, indeed demand, diversity of viewpoints. If the school’s administration and teachers can deliver and bring more political exploration to the table, they will put all of us in a better position. When we learn about different views, we can better defend our own. And with more exposure to diverse opinions, we would leave GDS better equipped to make the social impact that comports with our values, a skill that GDS so clearly wants for its students.