In a recent chapel talk, Jada '15 and Senyte '15 shared an excerpt from an article by Jeremy Dowsett titled, "What my bike taught me about white privilege," and then shared their reflection on the relevance of Dowsett's thoughts to the Peddie community.
Jada: While that was an amazing article by Jeremy Dosett using the analogy of biking to explain privilege in America, we think this topic is relevant and important to consider in our Peddie community. Peddie is a diverse place full of people from all backgrounds. I love how interesting and different the people I’ve met here are. I also think that people's individuality can get lost. Senyte and I hope from this speech we can all become stronger and wiser.
Senyte: At this school we have many resources that allow us to learn about different cultures. Peddie is a tolerant and accepting school. The only problem is that sometimes it seems that our student body falls too deeply into stereotypes of cultures rather than looking at the truth of them. For the students at this school, it can lead to people feeling isolated and unappreciated,... like the other.
Jada: When I arrived at Peddie my freshman year, my world was flipped upside down. I was categorized as just a minority whereas in my previous environment, I didn't have such labels, I was Jada. None of my teachers, dorm supervisors, or coaches were black here, and I was intimidated and hesitant. So I created a bubble for myself, I shut my mouth, and decided I would stay under the radar as best I could until graduation day. It’s worked for the most part, but I don’t like how I’ve changed. I don’t like being reluctant to talk or act like how I do around my friends and family. I want to be genuine with people.
Senyte: Coming from diverse Houston, I wasn't aware of many of the terrible stereotypes that would enclose me in my time here, as I was a very distinct individual at home and that was recognized by my peers. At Peddie, suddenly I had to share my identity with my three closest friends - even though we have incredibly different personalities, our individuality is sometimes ignored by our peers. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to get called a name in class or the dorm that isn't yours by people that you've known for years? It felt like relationships that had been built for years weren’t what I perceived them to be, because that person never really saw me for me, but was instead blinded by one similarity that all three of us shared.
Jada: I became very bitter very fast because of the assumptions individuals made about me. I would not touch someone's hair without asking because it's different than mine. I would not assume to say when I met a white person, “Hey, you must be very good at skiing!" I realized soon, though, that to blame individuals isn’t fair or productive. It is our society as a whole that has to change, and here at Peddie, it is important that we acknowledge the inequalities that still trouble our own community. I love being in a community of people with dreams and the motivation to make them a reality and I thank you all for making me a better person. At Peddie, I have met people of all different backgrounds. But witnessing some of the assumptions and generalizations that are made based on race or ethnicity are tiring to people of color here at Peddie - no matter what culture we come from!
We are not trying to lecture you like we are so enlightened and perfect - I’m far from it! But all of us are leaders. If we take charge and learn to really care about each other as individuals, I know that we can impact society and, in turn, things will eventually get better.
Senyte: Think about what you do when you pigeon-hole someone based on their culture. You ignore their personality, discredit their culture’s history, oppression or particular challenges, and ignore their experience as an individual. To assume who someone is based on what he or she looks like is to completely ignore that person.
We have wonderful opportunities with the various cultural clubs that are present on campus. If you feel that you do not know very much about a particular culture or racial group, consider joining a club that focuses on that culture. Pestering that one person you know of a certain culture puts that individual in charge of representing their whole race, which is never how you should go about educating yourself about race. Clubs like the Jewish Heritage Club, the African Heritage Club and the Multi-Cultural Alliance (MCA) are at this school to educate us on how to respect and enjoy other cultures, not to be exclusively for minorities!
Jada: In life we will constantly encounter people of other cultures. Peddie has given us a great foundation from which to build, but we must understand how our actions and words can impact our peers. Being black is a beautiful thing to me and to simplify my culture through stereotypes is to completely negate its value.
Maybe people stereotype because they are afraid of not being able to control, assume, or understand why people are different. Diversity is a beautiful part of life - to be able to encounter things that we didn’t expect and love them all the same, who would want to change that?
Senyte: Despite our ideas of how awesome and perfect Peddie is as a school we have to recognize that outside problems that seem not to exist here actually do. Oppression exists within our community, luckily only in small doses, like the bumps and piles of gravel Dosett mentioned in his story. Lets try to get rid of those, and stop using stereotypes to define students of color and instead appreciate who they are.
Jada and Senyte: Ala Viva Peddie!