by Ryan Sanghavi, Staff Writer, November 2020

Youth activism will be perhaps the most powerful force of the newest generation in coming years. Now more than ever, the sheer will of young voices in political campaigns and social movements, is surging. Students have started to harness the power of social media and community organizing to support initiatives and policies that have great impacts on certain demographics. 

This force is abundantly clear within Nobles, where affinity groups, political organizations, and young leaders spearhead discussions and actions relevant to current affairs. However, there is growing concern regarding recent actions that Nobles administrators and faculty advisors have taken regarding student initiatives. This is not to say that Nobles is actively attempting to suppress activism on campus; rather, the school is not fostering the most inclusive environment for student involvement in social justice.

Nobles lowered the American flag in front of Shattuck Schoolhouse to half mast for one month after the death of former President George H.W. Bush, but not for activists and trailblazers such as the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These simple actions have profound implications that hint at the school’s inadequacies in addressing justice. The lowering of the flag, or lack thereof, has symbolic repercussions, but even more alarming is Nobles’s surprising lack of attention to a number of active and ongoing social issues.

Many students have noticed the school’s mishandling of a number of social justice topics, especially those involving race, gender, and equity. Samsam Ismail (Class II) said, “In a way, I do feel like Nobles has been ignoring their students of color,” following her work with a group of junior students at the beginning of the school year to bring Black Lives Matter masks to campus. 

The on-campus suspension of any and all masks with text, including the words “Black Lives Matter,” was covered in-depth early in October by Angie Gabeau (Class I) in her Nobleman article titled: “Do Black Lives Matter @ Nobles?” 

However, Ismail’s concern with the ruling ran deeper than this lone instance of censorship: “[The ruling] was kind of something you couldn’t argue about; it [felt] like a waste of our time if we continued to argue against it.” It was almost as if, when advocating against this decision by Nobles administrators, the students were speaking directly to a brick wall. 

Though Ismail agrees that Nobles has taken steps in the right direction when dealing with racial issues, such as providing students with resources since a dramatic resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, she believes that the actual voices of students continue to be overlooked. She has noticed that, while some teachers, such as Associate Dean of Students Edgar De Leon, make clear efforts to connect with students over the problems of race on and off campus, many other faculty members ignore the issue in its entirety.

Another factor that concerned Ismail was the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) department which gained exposure on campus during the spring of 2020, though appears to be largely absent from the student body during this new school year. For example, the DEI department introduced new student groups to fight racism and oppression within the school, and new “dialogues” were opened up among the community. When asked what she had heard recently from the DEI department, Ismail responded: “I genuinely have no idea what they’ve been up to. I could not tell you.”

Since the school year began, only six references to the DEI department’s recent activities have been sent out in all-school emails. Most of these messages related to the preexisting affinity groups of Brother to Brother (B2B) and Sister to Sister (S2S). DEI did send a few emails about a new initiative, the Body Positive Nobles (BPN) that was created to end negative body image on the basis of skin color, weight, and other factors.

This initiative presents another step in the right direction for Nobles. However, a department titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” has a responsibility to make its projects clear and plentiful to the student body. There must be more assembly presentations, announcements, notifications, and discussions built around racial inclusion for any shift to be effective.

Another of the most frequently overlooked issues of social justice on campus is that of gender and sexuality. The school has seen massive strides in LGBTQIA+ representation in recent years through the introduction of initiatives such as the Queer to Queer (Q2Q) affinitity group, though some concerned students have outlined a number of fields that urgently need improvement. 

Olive Gifford (Class III), who identifies as genderqueer and uses any and all pronouns, said, “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on with the administration that’s not explicitly brought [up] to students. I understand that. But the issue is that so many students that are LGBTQ don’t see that difference.” These issues, for the most part, are not exclusive to the school. A gender binary has been built into society over the course of human history. However, without Nobles making attempts to include students who do not fit into that binary, there is very little that can change.

As an example, the directory built within the Nobles app has the option to search for students and faculty by gender, with the only two genders provided being male and female. With recent improvements, some non-binary or genderqueer students no longer appear under their sex assigned at birth, but the function exists regardless. This part of the directory is just one more reference to the gender binary ingrained in modern culture.

The issue, of course, does not stop there. The Student Life Council (SLC) is composed of four representatives per grade; two males, and two females. Similarly, school elections insist that one senior male and female student will be elected student body president. Should a non-binary student wish to run for office, the school administration has laid out no clear path for their path to electoral success. Would Nobles allow a non-binary student to run as an SLC candidate with special permission? Likely, yes. However, students should not have to actively pursue equality on campus; it should be readily available and easily accessible.

There are a number of easy solutions to this issue that would allow gender nonconformists to run for office while maintaining a gender balance. Perhaps a policy could be implemented limiting the maximum number of male or female SLC representatives to two, and the minimum to one. Regardless of the solution, the current reality of the SLC gender balance makes the entire system exclusive.

The Nobles administration has improved its understanding of social justice and differing identities over the past several years, but it still struggles to follow through with ambitious initiatives. “The Nobles administration should just listen to the students,” Gifford recommends, further stating: “If they’re trying to get some gender, sexuality, or race project done, [they need] to explicitly state what that project is so that kids aren’t waiting, not knowing whether or not they’re going to feel safe being at Nobles.”

Obviously, these issues extend far beyond the scope of race and gender; there are a multitude of marginalized groups at Nobles whose oppression is just as legitimate. However, Nobles administrators must gain a modern perspective and take bold, new actions to combat the school’s past insufficiencies when tackling social issues. Whether the problem is something so simple as a flag, or so expansive as censorship and systemic suppression, Nobles owes it to their students to do better.