Community wrestles with gender and sexuality

Wilson Hall through a prism – Jeffrey Yang ’22

Prologue: “Respect and value people of different genders, backgrounds, and opinions, and live as a cooperative and engaged citizen of the global community,” the first of our principles of community, as listed in the Strategic Vision.

Now, enter the “Gents’ Club”—the upper school students’ group chat named after strip clubs designed for men—where a thread rallies for “wife-beaters,” a slang term for sleeveless white shirts, i.e. tank tops. Jorts complete the requested outfit. 

Now, two Notables singers perform on stage, they act out an embrace: jabbing chuckles proceed.

Now, a female actor enters from stage-right: whistles hail her entrance. 

A theme runs through our culture, but many students lay entranced, perhaps innocently, unexposed to and unaware of the show that it puts on. 

The Principles of Community – Index Staff

On Wednesday, December 1, 2021, the Honor Council met with members of the Character Mentorship Program and the Diversity Alliance to discuss the state of our community. During two sessions of the meeting over lunch, one point commanded the conversations: the EA Day video, even though it premiered three weeks before. 

A developing tradition coordinated by a group of Sixth Formers, this video intends to unite the community before the athletic matchup against the Episcopal Academy.

 

“Our goal was to bring people together as a community, and we would not have put anything in the video unless it was meant to do that.”

Anonymous Sixth Former ’22

One Sixth Former involved in the video said, “Our goal was to bring people together as a community, and we would not have put anything in the video unless it was meant to do that.”

Thus, coordinators of the video searched for inspiration in a platform that many students would be familiar with: TikTok. 

“There is a viral trend on TikTok that girls make that is “POV when a [insert any descriptor] boy picks you up,” another Sixth Former involved in the video said.  

This trend was a satirical joke directed towards the general “awkwardness” of boys on a first date with girls. And this was the understanding of the clip that many students received when initially watching it in Centennial Hall.

“My initial reaction to the video was that it was funny. I just thought of it as a joke or as playful banter. I didn’t really look much into it,” Sixth Former Jahmon Silver said.

Upper School Dean of Students Mr. Luqman Kolade shared a similar perspective and described how the video that was shown, having undergone some edits, on initial glance appeared to be typical of a high school student production. 

“It was typical. It was fine. There were some parts that I found that were kind of funny, and there were some parts that I didn’t find as funny at all,” Mr. Kolade said.

In fact, around ninety percent of 141 students polled felt that the video was not offensive, or at least not to them. But, not everyone understood the playoff of the “viral TikTok,” with members of the community interpreting the date as happening between two male students, instead of the intended roleplay. 

But, with the version that was in fact presented, those with the latter interpretation viewed the video with a starkly different response than many students.

“[My reaction] was more or less utter shock. Seeing it, I was really offended by what was said, but I think I was more shocked that everyone was laughing as if it was a plain joke. I felt like I was the only one that wasn’t laughing at it, and I felt really out of place, like I was cut out of the narrative.”

Chase Nelson ’24

Fourth Former Chase Nelson said, “[My reaction] was more or less utter shock. Seeing it, I was really offended by what was said, but I think I was more shocked that everyone was laughing as if it was a plain joke. I felt like I was the only one that wasn’t laughing at it, and I felt really out of place, like I was cut out of the narrative.”

Others didn’t take direct offense from the scene but were similarly appalled by it.

“The date was pretty outrageous, in terms of playing two boys out on a date for laughs. I found nothing funny about it; it was painful to watch it,” History Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish said. 

And for some who understood the role-play of a girl, the clarity of the joke and its impact, rather than the intended perception, harbored concern. 

“I don’t think the intent of the scene was to offend anyone or to make homophobic or sexist jokes. So even if the intent of that scene wasn’t two men kissing, that was the effect it had on people. Intent versus impact definitely comes into play here.”

Roch Parayre ’23

“I don’t think the intent of the scene was to offend anyone or to make homophobic or sexist jokes. So even if the intent of that scene wasn’t two men kissing, that was the effect it had on people. Intent versus impact definitely comes into play here,” Fifth Former Roch Parayre said. 

And, to be clear, the final part of the date scene was supposed to be cut out in the version that the deans approved for showing to the community in the assembly.

“The date scene—that was a scene that the other forms deans said, ‘You know what? we should cut the scene that out,’ and it was cut out in the version that was supposed to be shown,” Mr. Kolade said. 

But the perception of homophobia in the video was one of multiple issues members of the community flagged; further, the deans did request the other discriminatory scenes to be removed in the final version.

A Sixth Former involved in the video said, “There were certain clips throughout the video that had to be edited due to cursing or possession of alcohol done by Eagles fans at the Eagles game tailgate. They also felt that some of the fun we poked at EA students was too targeted but nothing more than that [in addition to the final clip of the date scene].” 

Ms. Stinson helps Jaamir Shaw ’21 – Matthew Schwartz ’21

For one, various members of the community, one of them College Counselor Ms. Heather Stinson, found homophobic sentiments in the EA student character. Though she saw both potential sides of the joke, one side appeared more present in the action.

“I very much read into the portrayal of the EA student as being stereotypically homosexual. With the skipping, the dramatic actions, the fastidious nature of wearing masks, all those things struck me.” Ms. Stinson continued, “And I can see both sides: I can see how someone might interpret it as infantilizing that student, like ‘EA students are immature, childish, they’re baby-ish,’ but that was not how I read it. I read it as all the negative stereotypes of a student that might identify as being gay.” 

And if not for implied homophobia, this portrayal of the EA student also signaled sexism and patriarchy for some.

“Another issue for me was how [the video] represented femininity, and how it was considered as a weakness,” Nelson said.” Because the EA student was shown to be more feminine, and [for that] they were looked down upon as lesser.”

The interview sequence at the tailgate further sparked concern over the interpretation of the scene as perpetuating male power and prejudice against women. 

Ms. Turlish said, “I’m all for women wearing what they want, and putting on the makeup that they want, and speaking in the inflection that they want. But when you put on a series of blond young women in front of a group of five hundred boys, that’s not going to go well. I would love for a world where it would, but it doesn’t here.”

“I’m all for women wearing what they want, and putting on the makeup that they want, and speaking in the inflection that they want. But when you put on a series of blond young women in front of a group of five hundred boys, that’s not going to go well. I would love for a world where it would, but it doesn’t here.”

Ms. Hannah Turlish

Ms. Stinson elaborated on that segment of the video, emphasizing that, while the situation could have been much worse, she still felt anxious throughout its playing.

“I went in [to Centennial Hall] with my guard up … and I felt like the part where the guys were interviewing the young woman at the tailgate was uncomfortable for me. Not because of anything transpired that was inappropriate, but because the potential was there for that. I felt myself tense up for what could’ve happened,” Ms. Stinson said. 

Sexism is often overlooked at Haverford. For one, many students did not register any issue of discrimination against anyone, except for perhaps EA students, let alone women.

“I have heard nothing but good things about the video from faculty and students schoolwide,” a Sixth Former involved in the video said. “I didn’t even know that anyone had a problem with it. … I haven’t heard of a single teacher who has a problem with it, and I have yet to talk to a student who has a problem with it.”

But even for those who eventually interpreted the video in the context of sexism, these scenes were less glaring than others that they immediately saw as problematic.

Ms. Hannah Turlish speaks with a student, January 13, 2021 – Tyler Zimmer ’21

Ms. Tulish said, “I’m still not sure how to process that I barely realized the sexist side to it. Like it didn’t even register. I’m concerned that it’s because I’m so used to it here at Haverford and in the larger context of the world.”

Silver echoed this sentiment of the norm as being problematic. 

“As an upper school, none of us thought anything was wrong with it. We [students] thought that it was normal, but it wasn’t okay at all. The thing about our school is that this is the norm, and it shouldn’t be the norm at all,” Silver said.

As an upper school, none of us thought anything was wrong with it. We [students] thought that it was normal, but it wasn’t okay at all. The thing about our school is that this is the norm, and it shouldn’t be the norm at all.”

JAHMON SILVER ’22

In the context of Haverford being an all-boys institution, Parayre connects our demographic to our response toward issues regarding gender. 

“There’s ignorance surrounding feminism and women’s rights. And it’s very much more normal to everybody at an all-boys institution. People are so used to it, [as opposed to] racism and homophobia, that it just almost always goes undiscussed,” Parayre said. 

Roch Parayre ’23 – Jeffrey Yang ’22

Nelson emphasized another point: the community does not react negatively unless an action is egregious. 

“When it comes down to being offensive and being in that place of when you’re oppressing specific people, especially at Haverford, they don’t see it until someone calls someone a slur or says a blatant phrase that can’t possibly be argued as a joke,” Nelson said. “They don’t understand that sometimes slight or micro-aggression or ‘jokes’ that are intended to be jokes are offensive.” 

Others, however, felt tension in areas of the video, but could not pinpoint the issue.

“It was funny, but I could sense that there was a void, an elephant in the room. I was surprised that I didn’t hear any initial pushback.”

IAN RUSH ’22

Sixth Former Ian Rush said, “It was funny, but I could sense that there was a void, an elephant in the room. I was surprised that I didn’t hear any initial pushback.”

Ian Rush ’22 – Jeffrey Yang ’22

But, to Nelson’s point, Rush has found that generally in conversations involving more than his friends, jokes or other offhand comments involving homophobia or sexism are downplayed.

“In times when I’m with my closest friends at Haverford, I always get into a verbal argument with my friend [if something discriminatory is said]; and then it usually turns into a larger conversation [discussing these issues]. But in larger conversations [with more people], [the joke] just kind of flows awkwardly, and then the conversation shifts to another topic.”

While not always addressed openly, the administration recognizes that microaggressions exist in the community but has found these actions particularly challenging to tackle.   

“There have been some high-profile moments, but there also have been not so high-profile moments that are in some ways more difficult to address. It’s how students talk to each other, how they interact with other female faculty members that don’t blow past the boundary, but still not producing a healthy culture and community.”

MR. MARK FIFER

Mr. Fifer said, “There have been some high-profile moments, but there also have been not so high-profile moments that are in some ways more difficult to address. It’s how students talk to each other, how they interact with other female faculty members that don’t blow past the boundary, but still not producing a healthy culture and community.”

The video, as a “high-profile moment” fraught with not-so-high-profile offenses—i.e. microaggressions—uniquely generated both discussion but was also passed under the table.

Parayre said, “It definitely reignited that flame to restart talking about these things, but it was definitely not out of the blue. It was certainly both, but it was a spark that lit discussions because this was such a specific blatant incident, we can really use this as a way to jump off into the conversation.”

Head of School Mr. Tyler Casertano speaks at the Opening Day assembly – Communications

Head of School Mr. Tyler Casertano thinks issues of gender and sexuality are core to Haverford.

“I’m not sure about the larger conversations that we have been having as a school over the past few years. … But I definitely think that [the video] has fostered discussions about gender and sexuality, conformity, and masculinity at Haverford,” Mr. Casertano said. 

And while these conversations are not new, some of the people who are concerned are newly so. With that, the video was necessary.

“And while I certainly wish that we weren’t experiencing the pain that they had felt as a result of the video, I’m also glad that we as a school are able to have these conversations, and I’m eager to continue them so that we can grow as an institution.”

MR. TYLER CASERTANO

 “As somebody that believes that as a boys school, those are questions that are fundamental to who we are and what we do and our mission, I am often having [these conversations] normally, but there were new people that I was talking about it with as a result of the video,” Mr.  Casertano said. “And while I certainly wish that we weren’t experiencing the pain that they had felt as a result of the video, I’m also glad that we as a school are able to have these conversations, and I’m eager to continue them so that we can grow as an institution.”

But in the effort to create a safe, inclusive, space for all students, Mr. Fifer thinks we should not need these incidents to have discussions about gender and sexuality. 

“Proactive programming is always better than reactive programming,” Mr. Fifer said. 

This mission to create a school-wide culture of acceptance, mitigating discrimination on scales as small as peer-to-peer interactions to as large as school-wide assemblies, is deeply personal to some. 

“This is a place where everyone should feel safe. If anyone doesn’t, there’s a problem. I’m in a position of power in this place, but I’m also a marginalized community. I have a son that goes here, I hope to be happy that my son goes here.”

MR. LUQMAN KOLADE

Mr. Kolade said,  “This is a place where everyone should feel safe. If anyone doesn’t, there’s a problem. I’m in a position of power in this place, but I’m also a marginalized community. I have a son that goes here, I hope to be happy that my son goes here.”

All these issues generally boil down to a matter of everyone feeling they belong at Haverford.

Mr. Casertano said, “When we as a community are at our best, everyone feels a deep sense of belonging, and there are no patterns to that belonging. While we all may experience belonging differently because we’re different individuals who perceive the world in our unique ways, there are no patterns in that sense of belonging that are related to race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, or gender, or sexuality, or participation in a certain group on campus.” 

But, in fact, the culture as it stands renders those in our community who do not fit the norm, students and faculty alike, outside of the institution’s unity. And often, the traditions that are passed down from class to class, push those marginalized even further away from the supposed community.

“The jorts make me really uncomfortable; [they] are over-exposing and inappropriate for school. I feel like it puts me in a position, as a faculty member, to be uncomfortable at my place of work, and that’s not okay.” 

MS. HEATHER STINSON

Ms. Stinson said, “The jorts make me really uncomfortable; [they] are over-exposing and inappropriate for school. I feel like it puts me in a position, as a faculty member, to be uncomfortable at my place of work, and that’s not okay.” 

And this discomfort from female faculty is furthered by overhearing comments from students that objectify women.

“I have heard voices of boys, when I’ve led practices before, from the locker room talking about girls. I am concerned about the level of objectification about girls, and there’s no talk about a girl’s intellect or sense of humor. And I’ve heard boys talk about grown, female teachers at this school in ways that are really disturbing,” Ms. Turlish said.

Regardless of who is harmed and where, the focus remains, at least in a school setting, on how these actions impact the students.

Ms. Turlish said, “At the end of the day, what we’re really concerned about is how it’s going to make the boys feel, and what goes through the minds of the boys who see it as funny or don’t see what’s wrong about it.”  

“At the end of the day, what we’re really concerned about is how it’s going to make the boys feel, and what goes through the minds of the boys who see it as funny or don’t see what’s wrong about it.”  

MS. HANNAH TURLISH

On the other hand, many students view those who voice their sentiments of marginalization as pulling conclusions out of thin air. 

A Sixth Former involved in the EA Day video said, “There will always be people who try to find controversy in things like our EA Day video. That being said Mitav, Mr. Casertano, Mr. Kolade, Mr. Fifer, Ms. Kenna, and I, all looked over the video. If there was a real problem within and not just people looking to find problems with everything, we would have pulled it out.”

And this understanding is one that those who feel othered have recognized pervades the community, and thus are trying to change.

“A lot of students are saying that this is an overreaction, that the proposed new rules [regarding a broader vetting process for community programming] are too much, that it’s all unnecessary. But for real, in reality, this is necessary because this shouldn’t be a normal thing.”

JAHMON SILVER ’22

“A lot of students are saying that this is an overreaction, that the proposed new rules [regarding a broader vetting process for community programming] are too much, that it’s all unnecessary. But for real, in reality, this is necessary because this shouldn’t be a normal thing. [The belief is that even] if it’s an offensive video, it’s for humor, and it’s a joke, and that’s okay. But our community shouldn’t be built on that [belief],” Silver said.  

Jahmon Silver ’22 – Jeffrey Yang ’22

In order to see how our community should be built—theoretically, in upholding our school values and mission—and how to then build that community, members must understand why issues of discrimination, particularly homophobia and sexism, manifest in our culture. Though contentious, one possible answer lies in the school’s founding.

“It does all come back to the core root of our culture, all the things that we originally stood for when Haverford first started as a school all those years ago. The problem is that our culture and people in our community are having a hard time trying to move forward in the world, and a hard time trying to accept that there are students of different color and sexual orientation and gender from the average [student] at Haverford then. They refuse to catch up with the world. They’re stuck back in 1884,” Nelson said.

Chase Nelson ’24 – Jeffrey Yang ’22

Mr. Casertano questioned the school’s mission at its founding, but due to his relatively short time here, he’s still unsure of its repercussions in the present-day Haverford.

“Do I think that there is privilege at Haverford? Absolutely. How much of that privilege is the direct result of our history as a school that afforded education to only one population? I’m not sure if I’ve been here long enough to know the answer to that question,” Mr. Casertano said. 

But we can concretely examine the current education provided to students in the context of “preparing boys for life.”

 “The reason why our community is struggling is because we are not doing the job of preparing boys for life. They won’t understand that there are boys different from them outside of our school walls,” Nelson said. 

 “The reason why our community is struggling is because we are not doing the job of preparing boys for life. They won’t understand that there are boys different from them outside of our school walls.”

Chase Nelson ’24

And education in smaller class sizes has created flexibility, some argue too much, for “boyish” actions. 

Ms. Stinson said, “There’s this penchant towards letting the ‘boys be boys,’ and ‘nobody means anything by it.’ In a community that’s this small, those lines get blurred between the character of the person and their intention, so it’s really hard for us in this community to not get defensive over an offensive action.” 

And, compounded by the small size, members of the community argue that an all-boys education creates meager space for perspectives from women.  

Ms. Stinson continued, “Not having more than one gender represented openly lends a different vibe here. That vibe is something that I love about this place, but it can also be our biggest challenge. That all our students are looking to teachers, moms, and sisters as representing all women is really a challenge. It means that we open ourselves up to being blind to some of our issues that other students in schools with different genders discuss.”

“Not having more than one gender represented openly lends a different vibe here. That vibe is something that I love about this place, but it can also be our biggest challenge. That all our students are looking to teachers, moms, and sisters as representing all women is really a challenge. . . .”

Ms. Heather Stinson

Some of these issues that we may turn a blind eye to include the aforementioned objectification of women and homophobia, and, consequently, problematic human relationships.

“[The all-boys education] makes men and boys have this weird relationship with women: we are taught that we can’t associate with women in society properly, and that affects us for the rest of our lives,” Parayre said.

 On the other hand, some students and faculty argue that an all-boys environment limits student growth, which then leads to various forms of discrimination.

“The fact that we don’t have any [female students] at this school also leads to this hyper-masculine environment, which is highlighted by the locker room incidents, and sort of how we can all can just talk about being [dominant] ‘men,’ talk sexually about women, and badly about gay people. Racism can tie into that too because there’s this whole superiority complex,” Parayre said. “So I think that the fact there’s no women at all makes kids feel an excessive need to express ‘masculinity.’”

With these concerns in mind, members of the administration think that all-boys schools play an even greater role in building discussions that foster healthy men in the real world. 

Mr. Mark Fifer – Ryan Rodack ’22

Mr. Fifer said, “I think one of the responsibilities of an all-boys school in the twenty-first century is to ask those hard questions. It has a role in building healthy conceptions about gender and sexuality that not only impact a supportive, inclusive environment at Haverford but also healthy relationships and healthy experiences when students graduate from this place. Healthy relationships in the role world require a good foundation of understanding of these conceptions.”

Mr. Casertano further believes that this development applies to boys’ understanding of healthy masculinity.  

“While male power is still very much present in society—and one of the things that we as a boys school need to do is educate boys on male power—boys are suffering nationwide. They are lagging behind girls in many important ways, and part of that, in my opinion, is because of how the traditional construct of masculinity can limit boys’ development,”

Mr. Tyler Casertano

“While male power is still very much present in society—and one of the things that we as a boys school need to do is educate boys on male power—boys are suffering nationwide. They are lagging behind girls in many important ways, and part of that, in my opinion, is because of how the traditional construct of masculinity can limit boys’ development,” Mr. Casertano said. “There are still so many societal metrics that demonstrate that boys lag behind girls in terms of development, wellness, and achievement.”

In fact, the CDC reports that boys are four times more likely to die from suicide than girls. To counter the backdrop statistics such as this, Mr. Casertano hopes that Haverford is a place where one can engage without feeling the pressures of the social constructs of traditional masculinity.

In fact, the CDC reports that boys are four times more likely to die from suicide than girls. To counter the backdrop statistics such as this, Mr. Casertano hopes that Haverford is a place where one can engage without feeling the pressures of the social constructs of traditional masculinity.

“So often, being a boy means opting out of things, but at Haverford, when we are at our best I want students to opt in, not just in terms of their physical participation, but also their intellectual, social, and emotional participation,” Mr. Casertano said. 

An important solution to these recurring conflicts of homophobia, sexism, and racism, and hyper-masculinity lies in awareness through education, and Nelson emphasized that this awareness begins with analyzing small acts of discrimination. 

“We need to start talking more about… these small forms of aggression that cause just as much pain as slurs,” Nelson said.

And while these conversations are occurring—the Diversity Alliance and Gender and Sexuality Alliance met with Mr. Casertano and other administrators on Friday, December 10, 2021, in a panel discussion—they are happening within those who recognize the problem. Instead, through activities led by the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ms. Rhonda Brown, the goal is to educate students starting from younger ages. 

Ms. Rhonda Brown – Jeffrey Yang ’22

“The Lifers come here, they have wonderful experiences in lower school, it gets crazy in middle school, and then they sort through that craziness and find their own voice in the upper school. What I would like to do is to look at the uncomfortableness of middle school … the awkwardness of coming to your own and observing others,” Ms. Brown said.

As students grow in the middle school, Ms. Brown has found, some start reacting negatively to the tension they find as they begin to explore their identities, not just in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, but also the type of personality that they take on; and she hopes that shifting the timeline of when students are exposed to these will mitigate this tension and create better-prepared students for their futures.

 “And often the approach is to make the awkwardness seem different—and that’s why different [friend] groups form and why middle school is hard for some but not as much for others. But if we recognize that [awkwardness] for what it is, that it really is development and doesn’t have to be as painful as it is in some cases, what wonderful men could we create.”

Ms. Rhonda Brown

 “And often the approach is to make the awkwardness seem different—and that’s why different [friend] groups form and why middle school is hard for some but not as much for others. But if we recognize that [awkwardness] for what it is, that it really is development and doesn’t have to be as painful as it is in some cases, what wonderful men could we create.” Ms. Brown said. “Because, instead of the moment of awakening in ninth grade, you might have this awakening in seventh or eighth grade, come to yourself in ninth or tenth, and then have two more years here to advance yourself, to develop who you are and really get a sense of self.”

And Ms. Brown further hopes to begin education on identity and, with that, inclusion of others, with the school’s youngest students, a project that Mr. Casertano eagerly supports. 

“I’m really excited about the work that Ms. Brown is doing in the school—how it’s starting in the lower school, and how it’s rooted in our virtues of compassion and courage, as well as awareness and tolerance. I think that the success that we will have long term will come through having a bottom-up, unified, whole-school approach,” Mr. Casertano said.  

In the upper school, curricula changed in recent years are now more inclusive, exposing students to diverse perspectives through academics. And in this aspect, the English and history departments have modified their courses drastically in recent years. 

Ms. Taylor Smith-Kan – Jeffrey Yang ’22

English teacher Ms. Taylor Smith-Kan said, “When I first started teaching here seven years ago, [the department] was at the beginning of adding books by women. Now just in the freshman curriculum, we have three texts written by women: The Hate You Give, A Raisin in the Sun, The Emperor was Divine, and we’ve taught Eleanor Park before. Some think that Lorraine Hansberry might’ve been gay. And in the English IV course, of the four books that we read, two of them are by women.”

Aware of the smaller representation of diverse sexuality in texts, one being in finding these texts, the department wants to be careful to not just “checkboxes off a list” to satisfy representation. In fact, other factors beyond the text itself are equally important. 

“Representation matters, but it’s more than having authors. It’s about how you teach those, and how you address the elephant in the room. Like in Lord of the Flies, where there is no apparent racial or gender discussion, pointing that out is part of it. You can really teach gender and sexuality in the absence of them. If we suddenly have a text by a female writer, a gay writer, that’s not going to suddenly solve the problem of how kids perceive things.”

Ms. Taylor Smith-Kan

“Representation matters, but it’s more than having authors. It’s about how you teach those, and how you address the elephant in the room. Like in Lord of the Flies, where there is no apparent racial or gender discussion, pointing that out is part of it. You can really teach gender and sexuality in the absence of them. If we suddenly have a text by a female writer, a gay writer, that’s not going to suddenly solve the problem of how kids perceive things,” Ms. Smith-Kan said. 

Even in the traditional classics, often written by straight, white, males, Ms. Smith-Kan described how there’s branching off points for a discussion on gender and sexuality. However, these discussions, as both Ms. Smith-Kan argues, have fallen heavily on the English department.

“It’s not just about English. To suggest that diversifying the English curriculum can solve sexism and … is naive. It also falls on administration, programming, and expectations of students. It’s just more complex than choosing a curriculum. The English department is definitely doing their part, but do we also need the others to do their part too.”

The history department has made strides to discuss LGBT history, women’s history, black history in its courses, and have introduced the course “History of Science, Sex, and Culture” taught by history teacher Dr. Bridget Gurtler, but, just as Ms. Smith-Kan said, these conversations can feel like a burden mainly falling upon humanities teachers.  

“It’s exhausting. Curriculum changes, conversations about hot-button issues. Oftentimes when people criticize the job that ‘teachers are doing’ with curriculum and conversations, it’s only [for] the English and history departments. And we’re taking it on, we’re not turning our backs on it, but sometimes it can feel lonely.” 

Ms. Hannah Turlish

“It’s exhausting.” Ms. Turlish said. “Curriculum changes, conversations about hot-button issues. Oftentimes when people criticize the job that ‘teachers are doing’ with curriculum and conversations, it’s only [for] the English and history departments. And we’re taking it on, we’re not turning our backs on it, but sometimes it can feel lonely.” 

With these concerns, Mr. Fifer noted that the faculty from all departments are having discussions about how to include conversations of gender and sexuality into their teachings.  

“Certain disciplines that talk about the human experience lend themselves to discussions. But I know the other departments are committed to the education of the whole child and want to work outside of their specific academic discipline styles to think about how we can all speak a common language and build a community.”

Mr. Mark Fifer

“Certain disciplines that talk about the human experience lend themselves to discussions. But I know the other departments are committed to the education of the whole child and want to work outside of their specific academic discipline styles to think about how we can all speak a common language and build a community.” Mr. Fifer said.

Another form of raising awareness through administration comes with programming. Within the community, the Human Relations Seminar and Third Form seminars in past years have educated students on inclusion. And, though the pandemic has limited outside programming that has addressed students on issues of gender, sexuality, and healthy relationships in the past, Mr. Fifer hopes to bring these experiences back this year.

“Earlier in the fall, we started looking for programming in the spring as things will start to open up. We’re already in discussion with the One Love Foundation, which is focused on relationship abuse and how to spot the signs of relationship abuse, so that will hit on some of the themes of healthy relationships,” Mr. Fifer said.

In addition, Mr. Casertano added that, for upper school students, seeing reflections from peers is also important. 

“I think when we are at our best, we have a culture that promotes vulnerability and honesty. I’m eager to continue our effort of encouraging students and faculty to speak about their experiences, such as through reflections that generate empathy, compassion, awareness, and respect.”

Mr. Tyler Casertano

“I think when we are at our best, we have a culture that promotes vulnerability and honesty. I’m eager to continue our effort of encouraging students and faculty to speak about their experiences, such as through reflections that generate empathy, compassion, awareness, and respect,” Mr. Casertano said. 

The significance of students speaking to other students was echoed by other faculty members, especially in situations where faculty are not present, but this in itself is a challenge.

Mr. Kolade said, “Student-driven things are more effective than adult-driven things, but that’s hard for a kid who feels marginalized to do that, and it’s unfair to ask a kid to do that.”

This creates difficulty in addressing, for example, the cases of discrimination in the locker room. As Director of Athletics Mr. Michael Murphy said, the department was unaware of the situation.

“If things are going on, we need folks to speak up. I know that it’s difficult at times. I say it to our parents and students every year at the beginning of each season: It’s very hard to address something months later, not that we won’t go back to look at it, but I don’t think that it’s very effective.”

Mr. Michael Murphy

“If things are going on, we need folks to speak up. I know that it’s difficult at times. I say it to our parents and students every year at the beginning of each season: It’s very hard to address something months later, not that we won’t go back to look at it, but I don’t think that it’s very effective,” Mr. Murphy said.  

Moving forward, in athletic spaces, Mr. Murphy will continue to challenge the common perception of athletic spaces as being particularly fraught with discrimination against people of different genders and sexes. 

“One of the things that bothers me is the narrative that athletics, whether it’s here at Haverford or in general, tends to be a place of toxic masculinity. Let’s face it. I think there’s a little bit of difficulty when we talk about going out on the field, and competing and winning, and striving and giving our best—some sports are physical in nature.”

Mr. Michael Murphy

“One of the things that bothers me is the narrative that athletics, whether it’s here at Haverford or in general, tends to be a place of toxic masculinity. Let’s face it. I think there’s a little bit of difficulty when we talk about going out on the field, and competing and winning, and striving and giving our best—some sports are physical in nature,” Mr. Murphy said.

Despite that limitation, he emphasized that students should be held to the same expectations regardless of what space they’re in. 

Mr. Michael Murphy – Ryan Rodack ’22

“But that doesn’t mean that when we step off of the field, we can’t be Haverford gentlemen and comfort ourselves in the values of our school—just as we do on the field. I wouldn’t expect that just because we’re being competitive on the field, we aren’t losing our minds and acting out of those values. The two [athletics and our school values] can certainly coexist,” Mr. Murphy said.

And to address the issues that do exist, first, Mr. Murphy met with Ms. Brown to discuss potential separate spaces for any student that may feel uncomfortable changing in the upper-school-wide locker room. The two are also collaborating with Assistant Director of Athletics Mr. Brendan Dawson to create a training program required for any prospective team captain. 

“Ms. Brown and I have talked about having this type of topic being part of that leadership training program. Coach Dawson and Ms. Brown will be working together on that. Is that the large student body? No, but hopefully we can start small and work larger,” Mr. Murphy said.

Furthermore, Mr. Murphy plans on meeting with every athlete, each season, to continue emphasizing the expectations of their behavior. 

“I’m now going to start meeting with each boy participating on teams each season to discuss not only this issue but other issues of locker room decorum and hazing, head-on. I think we’ve done a pretty good job in addressing it [in the past], but this is one of those areas, that as an athletics director, needs constant attention and education.”

Mr. Michael Murphy

“At the start of each season, I currently have a meeting with parents. I’m now going to start meeting with each boy participating on teams each season to discuss not only this issue but other issues of locker room decorum and hazing, head-on. I think we’ve done a pretty good job in addressing it [in the past], but this is one of those areas, that as an athletics director, needs constant attention and education.” Mr. Murphy said. 

Students from the Diversity Alliance are also looking to amend the Honor Code to include provisions addressing a wider range of discrimination. However, they expect making these amendments to be a difficult task. 

Parayre said, “The problem with the Honor Council is that nothing can be proposed unless two-thirds of the Honor Council or ten percent of the upper school signs the petition, and that petition only passes if two-thirds of the entire student body votes in favor of the amendment. But with the Honor Council being all male and ninety percent white or so, it may be extremely difficult.”

But perhaps the biggest roadblock of all is discomfort.

“Conversations about identity are often emotional and uncomfortable and complicated because you’re talking about what it means to be human and what it means to be a boy, or a man, or a woman, and what it means to be those things on this campus.”

Mr. Tyler Casertano

Mr. Casertano said, “Conversations about identity are often emotional and uncomfortable and complicated because you’re talking about what it means to be human and what it means to be a boy, or a man, or a woman, and what it means to be those things on this campus.”

Despite this discomfort, through Peer Counseling, a safe space provided for Fifth and Sixth formers to discuss anything with their peers, Rush has found that these tough conversations have both helped him grow personally and understand, and have more empathy for others.

“Peer Counseling has given me insight into other people’s lives, and it’s made me feel more normal because we’re all going through similar problems. And even if we aren’t going through the same things, it’s great to know that someone is there for you—and that has helped me a lot in finding myself and becoming a man because the whole angry male stereotype, [unhealthy] masculinity, in that room I feel that it’s completely erased when we feel like we’re all in the same boat.”

Ian Rush ’22

Further, Mr. Casertano sees this discomfort as what the community needs to tap into in order to move forward.

“But, when we are at our best as a community, we create a sense of comfort that allows us to embrace inherent discomfort, whether that’s intellectual discomfort in the class, or physical discomfort on fields, or social discomfort in interacting with people who you haven’t become friends yet,” Mr. Casertano said. “Discomfort is at the root of growth.”

Author: Jeffrey Yang '22

Managing editor Jeffrey Yang has written for The Index since 2018. He previously served as news editor. His feature "Fords immigrants under the spotlight: Mr. Kan's citizenship odyssey" earned a Gold Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Scholastic Writing Awards.