Current Events at Winsor: Supreme Court Assembly

By, Annie A. ’21

On October 10, the entire Winsor school gathered to discuss the controversy surrounding the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Four Class VI students concerned about the lack of formal discussion at Winsor around the subject approached Ms. Pelmas to discuss having a forum on the subject. Their hopes were realised, and the forum happened. Ms. Pelmas mentioned that she and others in charge of planning assemblies felt that the SCOTUS confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh was something “we needed to talk about as a whole community. We knew that a lot of students were interested in it and worried about it, and then simultaneously, I got an email from a bunch of sophomores saying, ‘We need to meet with you and talk about this.’ That was a really good impetus that confirmed that we really should talk about it,” the Head of School continued.

However, many students felt that the assembly meant to allow students to voice their opinions about the hearings didn’t do quite what it was meant to. Lillian Gibson ’21 felt that the assembly was supposed to be “a safe space, but people had to stand up in front of a microphone in front of all their peers.” Gibson felt that “small group discussions would be a better way for people to hear others’ opinions.” Charlotte Fries ’19 added, “it was a really good idea, and I thought what everyone said was really important and true, but I don’t think it at all achieved what it was meant to. The entire time we spent talking about how we should talk about it, rather than actually talking about it.” Even Ms. Pelmas noted that “perhaps the open mic was not as successful as it could have been because we weren’t in the middle of trying to decide what we thought about the hearings or Kavanaugh as a nominee because it was already over.”

However, some students at Winsor thought that this discussion about how we approach controversial topics at in our school environment was actually more helpful than discussing the facts would have been. As an anonymous Upper School student said, “As someone who is generally conservative, I felt a lot of dissension around the Confirmation Hearing. I personally don’t support Kavanaugh, but I felt like the assembly made me feel a bit more comfortable about expressing my beliefs.”

The assembly was a good starting point in terms of creating a welcoming environment for all beliefs, but that it cannot be the end of discussion about how Winsor handles contentious events. Maya Bodick ’21 “liked it because we started talking less about the Kavanaugh stuff itself, and more about how we discuss political issues at Winsor. I think there were some things said that people wanted to be said. But now there’s a confusion of how we get to a place where we want to be.” Ms. Pelmas also noted that “the biggest question is how do we have conversations about important things when there are almost 600 people in this building.”

Another issue that came up was the structure of the assembly. Some Lower School students felt excluded from the Upper School forum after the whole-school assembly. Petra Sarkisian ’23 said that she thinks “that Class IV could have definitely been there… we can definitely handle things like that.” Ms. Pelmas noted that the decision was a calculated one: “We went around and around trying to figure out if that was a good idea or not a good idea. We thought of every permutation. The range of awareness of current events throughout the school is quite vast. We wanted to let everyone enter into the discussion at a level that felt good to them. For sure there were some Lower School students who more than wanted to participate in it, though.”

Ms. Pelmas talked about how she, Mr. Braxton, Ms. Markenson, and Ms. Phinney, among those who regularly plan assemblies, thought that the structure of the forum was their “best guess. It’s hard. The difference sometimes between Class I and Class VIII can be very narrow and sometimes very wide.” I’ve found that no matter what the issue is, from Buddy Advisory to Pasta Day to Assemblies like this one, at Winsor there is rarely a consensus among students.

There’s a lot going on in our current political climate, and our administration is painfully aware of it, even if we don’t see action right away. Between yearly, planned assemblies and guest speakers and activities in homeroom, there is rarely free time that coincides with the need for a discussion. Ms. Pelmas commented also on the “week of hate where the massacre happened at the synagogue, and there was a shooting in Kentucky, and the pipe bombs. That was a pretty intense week for a lot of people. We know the ideal thing would be immediately figure out how to talk about that stuff. Unfortunately, there isn’t always the time or space or ability to do that. We don’t know how to solve that, we just worry about it a lot.”

However, I do feel that even if the Assembly was not exactly what everyone wanted, we did make great strides in coming together as a community to discuss polarizing issues.