Category Archives: The Deans’ Office

Open Doors and Closed Minds: The Problems the Heteronormativity Task Force Addresses

2017-03-20-45

Eden enjoying a snow day during February 2017.

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

Imagine having a best friend opposite in gender to you. Your friend is a boarder but you are a day student. This friend has recently received traumatic news and just wants to lie in bed. You know they need and want to talk to you, but something is stopping you. And it has nothing to do with either you or your friend. Rather, it is George School’s visitation policy. You and your friend are not the same gender and, since the visitation policy is so limited, they cannot spend time in your room. Not even with the door open. What do you do?

That is the question that the Heteronormativity Task Force has been trying to answer.

Heteronormativity. Let us break this word into its two parts. Hetero means “other,” as in opposite gender couples, and “normativity” means what is expected. Together, in respect to sexuality, the word means the normalization of heterosexual relationships. The use of this word has become more prevalent with the rise of the LGBTQ+ movement.

George School, never behind in the area of social progress, began to recognize this term and its effect on the campus and community. Since then, a task force has been created in order to equally normalize all the different sexualities. Every Sunday, about ten people meet to discuss areas where they see heteronormativity on campus and how to change heteronormative policies. Led by Eden McEwen ‘17, the group works hard to brainstorm solutions to all sorts of heteronormative behavior and policies.

The task force was created last year as an initiative by Sam Balka ’16 through Student Council. To date, there are three Student Council Representatives on the task force, along with two returning members who are also on Student Council.

According to Eden, “The Heteronormativity Task Force was created by Student Council to address concerns from the community about the safety and integration of LGBTQ students in the dorms and in the classroom. Last year the task force took strides towards its goals to identify specific places in George School where there are heterosexist biases, to help create a clear LGBTQ policy regarding students in the dorms, and to raise overall conversation in residential and academic life about the preceding issues. The main goal of the task force is to develop a policy for queer students in the dorms that will make George School an overall safer place.”

Some issues the task force is addressing this year are dorm visitation policies and the inclusivity of the curriculum.

The current dorm visitation policy requires that doors must remain open to discourage sexual activity and limit the possibility of pregnancy and the breaking of a major school rule (no sex on campus). Upperclassmen and women are allowed to have members of the opposite gender in their rooms, but, even then, the visitation times are limited. This system conveys a lack of trust to the students and puts those who are friends with someone of the opposite gender in an awkward position.

As for the task force’s focus on curriculum, the English curriculum has little queer literature and the history department tiptoes around major events in the queer community. Additionally, the health curriculum seems to move too fast to properly address different sexualities, orientations, and genders. The Heteronormativity Task Force would like to come up with ways of addressing these issues and, even more importantly, creating a more inclusive and safe space for LGBTQ+ youth.

Next year, the task force will be open to more members of the community without an application process. Additionally, it has been working on outreach lately, collaborating with Open Doors to get a better feel for what changes the community wants to see.

If you have any questions or concerns about heteronormativity, the task force, or life at George School in general, feel free to approach any member  of the task force. Members include Eden, Brooke Angle ’18, Duffy ’18, Samaya Mayes ’18, Ben McCormick ’18, Ben McCormick ’18, Will Street ’18, Kat Stein ‘18,  Jacob Hoopes ’19, Kalani Chen-Hayes ’20, Sidney Gibson ’20, and me, Bea Feichtenbiner ’19.

Leave a comment

Filed under dorm life, Student Work, Students, The Deans' Office

The Death of Four Square?

history-foursquare-03

by Eric Wolarsky

It’s not too often that great moments in history light up like a neon sign and flicker at us through the ages. The competition to design the new bronze doors for the Baptistery in Florence in 1401 shouts out “The Italian Renaissance begins here!” And the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 dramatically signaled the end of the Cold War, though teenage me was too obtuse to understand that at the time.

As George School inches closer to its 125th year, we need only look at the images of its earliest students on the walls of the Meetinghouse to see how much the school has changed over the years. But most of that change occurred in a long, slow evolution, and the obvious watershed moments were few and far between. However, a momentous change is underway at George School this year, and the rapidity of its stunning arrival has left many in our community feeling whiplash.

For me it began on a pleasantly brisk morning in the first week of December. Having descended five flights of stairs from my apartment in Central dormitory to the Children’s Center in the basement of Main, I finished dropping off my son, walked down the hallway past the offices of our IS department, and emerged on Red Square en route to my office in Marshall. That’s when I noticed it.

There was a group of students in a tight circle on Red Square, playing hacky sack. It was pretty early in the morning, and Red Square was otherwise abandoned, and I didn’t think much of it at the time.

I walk back and forth between Marshall and Main a half dozen times per day. And an eerie sense of something strange, something out of place started to grow within me with each subsequent trip that week. Each time I would cross between the buildings, I would see a group playing hacky sack, maybe two, and no one playing four square.

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “Fickle teenagers and their passing fads. This will surely pass.”

But several days went by, and it didn’t pass. I was growing uneasy.

As dean of students, I can’t just ignore major events affecting our student body. But I didn’t understand what was happening, and it was disorienting. Faced with this mystery, I did what I always do. I asked Twitter.

erics-tweets1 For 24 hours, Twitter offered no answers. But the next afternoon, crossing Red Square at the end of my work day, some students playing hacky sack asked me what I thought about “the poll.”

“What poll?” I asked.

“The poll on Twitter,” they replied.

It turned out that George School’s observant assistant director of communications had seen my tweet and launched a Twitter poll asking the community to vote between activities: four square or hacky sack. Engrossed in my work all day, I hadn’t seen the poll yet. By the time I took a look an hour later, there were already 44 respondents, and hacky sack had a big lead.

For 24 hours interested parties waited to see how the poll would turn out. Alums in the Twitterverse chimed in with opinions. Tweets about the validity of the poll were bandied about. When it was all said and done, Team Hacky Sack had won, 53% to 47%. There it was in indisputable pixels on a screen. The impossible had become possible, and a community that had been defined by its allegiance to the subtle art of four square – for decades! – had suddenly pivoted.

erics-tweets2

The pro-hack students were ebullient in their victory. And, to my surprise, it has been a lasting victory. I haven’t seen four square played in nearly two weeks now. It is as if the entire student body, through some silent, secret shibboleth, has cast off the defining communal activity of our central plaza.

I’m not entirely sure yet how I feel about this. There was something egalitarian, something creative about four square. It served as a metaphor for the school’s values. Can hacky sack wield the same symbolic force? Will it be as inclusive and engrossing? After the winter’s frost has come and gone from Red Square, will the school revert to muscle memory, and the four square ball will come out again on an unseasonably warm day in late February? Or is this it from now on?

Those questions will be answered in time. What I know today is that many of our students are proud that they’ve staked out a new identity. They’ve shown that they are not beholden to tradition, and that they don’t have to do what their older siblings did when they were here. We may lament the passing of four square, but we must honor the spirit of independence that animates this hacky sack movement.

3 Comments

Filed under A Day in the Life, Musings from Faculty, Students, The Deans' Office