Amidst election drama, school puts values front and center


Staff Photo by Saffy Patel '22

BIDEN BASH: Supporters gather near the Boston Common to celebrate the election results announced on Saturday, November 7, an unseasonably warm day. “e celebration was so powerful,” Annie Stockwell ’22, who attended the gathering, said. “It felt like everyone could nally breathe and be themselves.”

On November 3, as the nation watched the number of popular votes rise in key battleground states, first-time voter Saahil Raina ’21 said with so much at stake, he was nervous.

“The presidential election felt like it was going very similarly to 2016, but there was also such a degree of uncertainty with what was going to happen and when it was going to happen,” he said.

As the week progressed and more votes were counted, though, Saahil said his nerves settled.

“We had one job, and that was to vote out someone who’s incredibly divisive and enables hate from the highest office in the country,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in the county, but this is the right start.”

After months of stress, hope, and anticipation, the school has witnessed the historic moment of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ presidential victory. However, as President Donald Trump refuses to concede, the future of the country remains uncertain, and across all three campuses, the school has continued to foster open spaces for differing opinions about the election. At the Lower School (LS), Princess Adeoye ’27 said she regularly discussed the election with her teachers before class and studied the election maps during the week leading up to the results.

“At BB&N we have all these different types of people,” Princess said. “No matter if you’re a girl or boy, no matter where you come from, no matter what class you’re in, no matter what age you are, the president that we have will affect everyone, and there’s going to be something in the election that’s crucial to you.”

John Williams ’27 said it’s important to respect differing views and converse anyway.

“If I feel that I have a strong opinion against one president, then I express it,” John said. “I like arguing and making points on politics and telling people to keep open minds about other choices besides their own.”

The persistent national division reflected in the huge number of votes for both Biden and Trump surprised Science Teacher Michael Chapman, he said.

“I always knew that there was harmful rhetoric and people pushing xenophobic and racist ideologies,” he said. “At the same time, though, I thought that after these four years, and especially [in] 2020, with how poorly we’ve handled coronavirus, people would have thought that we should probably do something different. That was a little bit jarring.”

Mr. Chapman added that the election result demonstrates the importance of citizens’ voices and invites connection back to the school’s values.

“These values that we hope to embody and instill matter, regardless if you’re a student or faculty or staff member. It shows that these values have a true and prominent place in society,” he said. “It’s even more important for us to be able to carry these values outside of the BB&N community and try to show those around us the idea of scholarship, the idea of integrity, [and] the idea of kindness, as more of a national view.”

LS Spanish Teacher Omar Machado said he felt President Trump’s past term had normalized dishonest behavior, so he expected a different outcome. “I was afraid that President Trump had a very large support base of people who did not rely on the truth, who didn’t care about each other, and who didn’t want the country to improve,” Mr. Machado said. “That is why I was surprised about the results; I was hopeful, but I was getting ready to accept four more years of prejudice, the normalization of racism, and further social polarization. I am so glad that I was wrong.”

Before and during the elections, he added, the school created spaces for faculty who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to talk about what they were facing and how to share those feelings and experiences. At the LS, Affinity Groups and Racial Justice Community Time continue to provide a productive environment for these conversations, he said.

“In these spaces we exchange opinions about empathy, implicit biases, and how some of the current events affect our kids. We’ve been having race-based conversations, and kids have been expressing their honest opinions on many of the issues we discuss,” he said. “From what they bring to the conversation, we always try to bring in civility and respect for everyone and try to talk specifically about everyone’s amazing cultural
backgrounds and ways of life.”

Upper School (US) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practitioner Maria Graciela Alcid said a Zoom affinity space, open to all school faculty and staff who identify as BIPOC, was held after school on Friday, November 6. The time was set aside to reflect openly and share what everyone learned from the week, as well as to discuss how to best plan for the following week, she said.

“I’m new to the community, and I’m deeply grateful for all the learnings and patience from my peers,” Ms. Alcid said. “I’m humbled by the individual and collective capacities of faculty, administration, and staff to serve the community during a time of pandemic, hybrid, and election.”

She added, “It’s a difficult balance of being proactive and reactive, especially during this climate of uncertainty and polarization. It felt like a lot was being held, and still is, and I’m grateful to see all the responsive spaces made available for teachers and staff to process.”

Middle School (MS) Ceramics Teacher Sasha Bergmann said that although she has not initiated conversations on the election and politics, in general she wants her students to feel comfortable speaking up.

“In my [arts] projects, I am not just teaching how to make beautiful objects, but also how art can be a place where we can communicate conversations that need to happen—conversations about where you can have your voice, where you can find power in this culture, how you can have some influence in ways that make a positive difference,” Ms. Bergmann said.

Nnema Epee-Bounya ’24 said social media, news, and the general climate of 2020 has exposed her generation to what is happening in the world and forced them to reflect on governmental leadership.

“I’ve always wondered why it’s usually old people in politics when the young people are going to be the ones living in the country, and the people making the decisions are not going to live to see the repercussions,” Nnema said. “During Trump’s presidency, I think a lot of young people realized how important politics are, but people often invalidate the opinions of people our age, even though young people experience some of the issues more than older people.”

Nnema, a Global History 9 student, also expressed a desire for more discussion at the US about election-related events that could pertain to class material.

“School should always tie in to modern-day events,” she said. “There are some classes where we could have found a link from what we’re doing in the curriculum to the election, and sometimes I wish we had done that because it’s interesting to talk to your classmates and teachers about modern-day events, especially ones that are so historical and important.”

Many history and social science classes did find creative ways to incorporate the elections and the function of voting into their curriculum. History Teachers Steele Sternberg and Scott Tang showed their classes episodes from a Vox documentary series on voter suppression and how gerrymandering, the electoral college, and residential patterns favor a single party. Meanwhile, History Teacher Matt Turnbull visited the Trump and Biden campaign websites with his Grade 9 students.

“The Facing History curriculum focuses, in part, on the way authority figures [and] politicians can use propaganda to sway public opinion, for better or worse. Our current president and the upcoming election came up in discussions from time to time,” Mr. Turnbull said. “Some of the Nazi propaganda we looked at overlapped with some of the things Trump has said, or groups he has endorsed, so the comparisons to our current politics happened organically at times.”

For many women and people of Black and South Asian descent, Vice President-elect Harris’ victory was particularly historic. Lily Gelb ’29 said that seeing Ms. Harris speak and prepare for such a high position in America made her happy.

“It kind of makes me think that girls can do anything. The woman vice president is Black, so I think that’s also really amazing,” Lily said. “In her speech on Saturday night, she was talking about [how] all the little girls watching this can do anything, and that just made me feel good and made me feel confident.”

Laura Cox ’22, who identifies as a moderate, said she feels conversations
surrounding the election are often too one-sided and that Trump misrepresents the Republican party as a whole. People can have reasons for voting Republican, she added, and it doesn’t mean they are horrible people.

“I’m pro-choice, and pro- a lot of Democratic values, but I have a lot of economic standpoints that are more Republican,” she said. “So when I[’m actually] talk[ing] about the economy, people say, ‘Oh, you must be homophobic, you must be pro-life,’ and those things aren’t true.”

Laura feels that news sources contribute to this one-sided mindset.

“I read about this [former] law called the FCC fairness doctrine, [which said] no news source could only present one side—they had to, for at least a short amount of time, present an argument from the other side,” Laura said. “I thought that was so cool because I feel like a lot of people are so isolated: everyone picks a side and then doesn’t even consider arguments from the other side. And how could they when they’re not exposed to them at all? It’s hard because the news sources are so polar.”

English Teacher Akemi Ueda said that this polarization during the election
process has taught her the importance of paying attention to the wider landscape of news outlets.

“One piece of advice for students is to read widely and consult multiple news sources. Don’t just rely on one paper. For example, just reading The New York Times is not enough,” she said. “I didn’t totally recognize this myself until recently: even news outlets with sterling reputations still have a bias and make choices about what to report on and what not to report on. The only way to get around that as a consumer of media is to read lots of sources and then make up your own mind.”

(For more information on the policies of the Biden/Harris administration, see pages 12
and 13.)