2020-21 Voices of Change Essay Series

community members activate advances in catlin gabel curriculum and culture

While diversity, equity, and inclusion work has been a growing priority for the school in recent years, community involvement has accelerated as well. Students, parents, teachers, staff, and alumni have stepped up and are helping drive our ongoing evolution by taking action. They’re forming affinity groups, partaking in conferences, initiating diversity-focused fundraising campaigns, collecting empirical data, and documenting their lived experiences. The following stories represent a small sampling of this involvement.

Being Who They Want to Be

By Sue Phillips, Upper School Librarian and co-host of the Upper School students’ All-Queer Environment (AQE) group

I work with LGBTQ+ community members in the Upper School, and I have colleagues who are very active as well. We’re there to help set the tone, be a supporter, and help ensure that students express the values of the group and are inclusive.

For example, it’s easy for a group to become too clubby, and they can forget that sometimes the students who are newest to the group are the ones who need it the most.

An affinity group is just a place where students can be. They don’t have to prove anything or educate anybody; they can just be present, laugh, have fun, and talk about serious or not serious subjects. And have a majority experience. That’s not the experience that they usually have in daily life.

LGBTQ+ students in the Upper School might be perceived as having a very easy time of it, because it’s a progressive school, an independent school. But we don’t find that is always true. It depends so much on the context of an individual student’s life. Do they have parents who are supportive? Do they feel clear about their identity or is it something that’s under exploration?

It’s good for them to have a place where they’re not judged, and where they’re around other students who are also asking these questions and trying out a new identity and being who they want to be. All teenagers are experimenting with who they are and figuring out who they are, but when you add a layer of complexity to it that has to do with core issues like gender and sexuality, it’s a lot.

I think we, the adults at Catlin, need to keep working on improving our own awareness and comfort with talking openly and comfortably about gender and sexuality, sexual orientation, and the range of human experience. Whether we’re teaching, working in a study group, coaching, whatever our role is at the school. And we need to ensure that we’re talking openly and honestly about the contributions of LGBTQ+ people in every area.