As poet Matthew Stepanek once said, “Unity is strength, [and] when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” Such ideals are necessary as we return and adapt to a new Horace Mann. As a community, it is imperative that we come together. However, the uncertainty within our school also captures the environment of the world around us. Amidst everything that has transpired this year, from police brutality to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a supportive community is now clearer than ever.
At Horace Mann, we are accustomed to forming an argument, acquiring the evidence to support it, and then rebutting. Our school has taught us to always believe in ourselves and to never question our intelligence, and that undoubtedly has detriments. We must listen to learn and understand, not only to respond. In order to foster a welcoming environment, we cannot invalidate the experiences, identities, and lives of others by assuming that we know more. For example, if someone says that they have a hard time trusting the police and judicial system, do not refute their experiences simply because you have not experienced this. In addition, if an individual expresses discomfort with something that has offended or invalidated parts of their identity, it again is imperative that we take a step back to listen and empathize. We must acknowledge that our wisdom knows bounds. We are not equipped to speak on every issue, let alone attempt to explain the issues that another person faces. We need to support those affected and trust the information that they share.
At the same time, we cannot remain ignorant and uneducated about social issues in our world that undoubtedly affect our community. Just as we delve into academic topics by pulling from a wealth of the school’s resources, the same must be done to learn about the world around us. As we engage in conversations about vacations, clothes, shoes, and grades, it is important to engage in more serious conversations that help us understand the world around us and the way in which our peers might be affected. Ignorance is bliss, and it is easy to retain a false sense of togetherness by choosing not to acknowledge blatant issues. It is necessary for us to educate ourselves through conversation, individual research, and constant attention to the world around us. If we do, we can validate each others’ experiences and accept everyone and their identities.
We must actively uplift one another. Due to our circumstances, many of the familiar ways we fostered community in the past are no longer available to us. Although it is harder to create new relationships and strengthen existing ones, we must make the effort to get to know people we may not regularly associate with. We should try to understand who they are and how their identity and background affect their life experiences. One of the best ways to broaden our worldviews is to directly hear from people who experience life differently. In doing so, we can show up for and assist our peers in whatever ways they see fit. Whether that means supporting their initiatives, learning about an issue they are passionate about, or merely listening to them rant about what upsets them, make the effort to truly be there for them.
In a year marked with unrest and sorrow, we have a unique opportunity to build unity and joy within our community. By listening, learning, and supporting, we can create a friendly, ethical, and welcoming environment where individuals of marginalized identities feel included and valued.”