Diversity Alliance strives to improve school culture

Features editor Joey Kauffman ’23 (center top) interviews Diversity Alliance members (clockwise from top left) Quinn Luong ’22, Kethan Srinivasan ’21, Haroon Naz ’22, and Bowen Deng ’22 – Joey Kauffman ’23

Haverford, like almost everything, is imperfect. Yet one student-led group believes the school can always strive to be better than it currently is. 

     This group—the Diversity Alliance—is not only prolific on social media, sharing its message through polished infographics that aim to educate and persuade, but it also has a strong presence at Haverford. The Diversity Alliance wants to transform the fabric of the school, proving that sometimes, true leadership can come from the bottom up. 

     “I am in awe of [the Diversity Alliance],” advisor Mr. Brendan Jobs said. “I remember when I came in in 2016, the Diversity Alliance was kind of like a club. There wasn’t a leadership focus and clear goals.” 

     Mr. Jobs continued, “Over the course of those four years, they’ve gone from just being one organization to becoming one of these leadership organizations and also at the same time managing different affinity spaces that they create.” 

     These affinity spaces, which were all initiated and run by students, include the Pan-Asian Student Association, the Gay-Straight Alliance, the Jewish Student Union, and more. Each of them has incrementally pushed the school towards becoming a more inclusive environment. 

     Diversity Alliance members felt there was something profoundly wrong about the way marginalized groups are treated at Haverford, and, after acknowledging the school’s shortcomings, they have worked to make the school a better place. As a result, the Diversity Alliance thinks it is important to call out injustice and not hold back on criticizing the school when necessary.

     “I think Haverford has handled [racial incidents] poorly in the past. During my freshman year, I went into having peers, even in the classrooms, deal with these racist incidents. It was blatantly racist and disgusting,” Fifth Former and Diversity Alliance Co-Chair Quinn Luong said. “I witnessed two discriminatory incidents [freshman year], and I feel like [the students] didn’t receive the necessary repercussions that they should have faced. It could have been handled much better.”

     To the Diversity Alliance, this mismanagement of racial incidents goes back to the code of conduct that governs our school—the Honor Code.

     “The Honor Code doesn’t include anything on racism or discriminatory events, even though that’s what the majority of honor cases are about,” Luong said.

     The problem is not only in the Honor Code itself, but it is also in the group that interprets the Honor Code—the Honor Council—a predominantly white group of students. To offset the lack of diversity, the Honor Council has two diversity liaisons who sit-in on hearings. Still, the Diversity Alliance believes that this isn’t enough.

      “[The liaisons] just sit in on trials, which is not the best use of them. They can’t vote. They just sit there and watch and talk,” Luong said. “The Honor Council is predominantly white. They don’t have the background or the experiences of people of color when they judge these racial incidents.”

     To understand lopsided representation, the Diversity Alliance stresses that we have to understand the school’s flawed history regarding race. 

     “[Haverford] started integrating black students and other people of color near the late sixties, when integration of schools started to become the eventual norm,” Sixth Form Diversity Alliance Vice-Chair Kethan Srinivasan said. “As a result of that, even black students who are in this school aren’t exactly aware of the history of some of the first black students that have been in this institution.”

     To make Haverford a more just place, the Diversity Alliance believes we should adjust the school’s curriculum to include more history on minorities—a subject that usually gets more attention in Sixth Form electives.

     “The electives are only semester electives, and that’s in your senior year. I think it’s really valuable that we create a curriculum that all Haverford students don’t have to choose, but will learn [minority history] in class,” Luong said. 

     When asked whether he thinks the history curriculum at Haverford is “whitewashed,” meaning Eurocentric, Mr. Jobs looked at the bigger picture, saying, “The curriculum that exists at Haverford, in many ways, isn’t any more ‘whitewashed’ than a curriculum that we see across the country.”

     Mr. Jobs explained that “textbook[s] are created with attention to two states—California and Texas. They have really large school populations.”

      “They’re playing it to a more conservative base in Texas, or to a more liberal base in California, but both of those bases are white,” he said. 

     “When we think about history, we position Europe as the center, even in literature classes,” Mr. Jobs said. “I think that especially students who are oppressed or are from marginalized communities will take issue with that.”

     The goal, as Mr. Jobs explained, is not “making it so that now all the curriculum only talks about black and brown people. It takes creating more of a balance, and that’s what equity is.”

     The goal, in Mr. Job’s words, is “making it so the content we are teaching across all divisions offers not just windows to people who are different than you, but also mirrors to people who are like you.”

     In addition to the history curriculum, the Diversity Alliance feels that not only the choice of books that we read in our English classes but also the way the book is taught is important. For example, American Born Chinese, a graphic novel in the English I curriculum, depicts offensive Asian stereotypes with the goal of satirizing racist caricatures.

     “[American Born Chinese] itself is comedic and [those who miss the satire] just laugh at the imagery in the graphic novel and it normalizes Asian racism to the next level,” Luong said.

     Srinivasan added on, “That’s something that the English Department needs to take a look at and use as a lesson in probing their students into thinking, ‘Why is that funny?’ and give the context on that particular thing because that’s what the intent of the author is, but it gives a sort of opposite reaction to what was intended.”

     This highlights a form of racism that is extremely prevalent in the Haverford community, yet sometimes overlooked: “jokes.”

     “I think jokes can really be hurtful because it’s not about the joke, it’s about the thought that actually ran through the person’s head,” Fifth Former Diversity Alliance member Haroon Naz said. “If someone were to make a joke about your appearance, you’re thinking like ‘oh they made it funny, but that’s actually what they thought when they saw me. They cover it when they make it a joke.’”

     The Diversity Alliance is working towards building empathy in the Haverford community. Bowen Deng, a Fifth Former and member of the Diversity Alliance, summed it up perfectly when asked what he would tell a Haverford student who is resistant to the message of the Diversity Alliance. 

  “I would just say put yourselves in a person of color’s shoes. And just think what daily life must be like for them.”

Bowen DenG ’22

     “I would just say put yourselves in a person of color’s shoes. And just think what daily life must be like for them. Not even inside school, but outside school with coronavirus,” Deng said. “I’d say just the borderline if not completely hateful rhetoric that is so prevalent in the media today.”

     Some members of the Haverford community may find the Diversity Alliance’s outspoken criticism of the school offensive. The group would argue that it is not trying to undermine Haverford with their “safe spaces” and “affinity groups”; they are simply trying to make Haverford a better place than it currently is. 

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

James Baldwin

     The members of the Diversity Alliance are new leaders in a long line of civil rights activists who have called out injustice and worked to improve their community—whether it be their school or their country.      

James Baldwin, an icon of the civil rights movement, captured the benevolence behind activists’ criticisms when he wrote in Notes of a Native Son, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”