Although in the past the Upper School (US) has seen political clubs such as Young Democrats and Young Republicans, Katie Randall and Pierce Haley (both ’19) thought the school needed an open forum welcoming all political viewpoints, so they created the LEAD club (Leaders for Equity Advancement and Democracy).
“Instead of having this polarizing name, you have one that’s open to more ideas, that suggests anyone can come,” Katie said.
Last spring, Pierce and Katie took over the Young Democrats Club before changing it to be a resource for any student interested in politics. All of the other members of the previous Young Democrats Club were seniors who had been asked to join by the club presidents or English Teacher Rob Leith, the faculty advisor, Katie said. Now the club is open to anyone and has about seven regularly attending members, from all four grades, who have been meeting during Tuesday X blocks. The meeting time is also a change for the club, which used to convene in the morning before school hours. Katie said this made it less accessible than other clubs that meet during the school day.
So far LEAD has covered topics ranging from the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the possible presidential run of Senator Elizabeth Warren. This fall, LEAD’s goal has been to increase voter participation among seniors in the midterm elections, Pierce said. The club held a voter drive on November 6, the day of the midterm elections, and signed up 25 students, most of whom were seniors. They also hosted a watch party for the debate between Senator Warren and Geoff Diehl, the two candidates in the Massachusetts senate race.
In the future, co-presidents Katie and Pierce plan to send weekly emails about local political events that students can attend independently—part of an effort to make the club more active, Katie said.
“I think a lot of what we’re good at doing is talking about taking action, but never doing anything,” she said. “I really hope we get people actually doing things. I would like to have our club set people up and get them on the right track to really making a difference in our current world.”
In Pierce’s view, a politically active student is one who campaigns with and shows support to groups working toward causes that are important to them, he said. Examples would be campaigning to limit the number of patients per nurse and uphold transgender rights—questions that were on the midterm ballot.
“It really doesn’t matter to us if you’ve worked on political campaigns or if you have not read a ballot before,” Pierce added. “We’re focused on making sure that you can be politically active on any level that you want.”
LEAD also hopes to provide a place where both liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning students can convey their opinions on current events and debate freely without fear of being attacked, Pierce said.
Anna Garvey ’21 said this aspect of the club appealed to her.
“I joined because I was looking for a club that was involved in politics,” Anna said. “I liked that it was a space where you were allowed to share your opinion even if you had opposing views or didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was being said in the room. It was a very comfortable environment to do so.”
Nonetheless, the club is facing challenges with drawing in conservative students, Pierce said. To address this, he plans to schedule meetings over FaceTime with the Young Republicans at Thayer Academy later in the year. During his spring semester of junior year at The School for Ethics and Global Leadership, Pierce said he learned that one must respect all schools of political thought.
“The school is lacking any platform for people with conservative views to express their opinions,” said Pierce, who identifies as a Democrat. “I’ve personally taken issue with the ways BB&N has handled the expression of conservative views and also the overt expression of liberal views in both the classroom and even in assemblies.”
Pierce said he believes the faculty’s open expression of personal belief isn’t the most conducive to fostering an environment that’s comfortable for everybody.
“You don’t have to spend much time on campus to hear a plethora of open jabs from teachers at Republican lawmakers,” he added. “It’s important to make sure all students feel comfortable in the classroom.”
Emily Angelino ’20 agreed that many people in the community hold strong prejudices against conservatives.
“At this point in time, politics are party politics, and Republican equals Trump, so people stigmatize the party,” Emily said. “[The club is] working to get rid of the idea that if you support this person or this belief, you fall under all these different check boxes.”
Mr. Leith stressed the open nature of the club.
“The purpose of LEAD is to be a place where everyone present is receptive to other points of view,” he said, “with the goal of becoming better informed so that their opinions aren’t based upon only one perspective.”