By Jay Sastry ‘18
The most frustrating thing about the previous times the Washington Capitals have lost in the playoffs is not the collective depression felt by the community of fans. Walking through school the day after previous Game 7 losses in OT felt almost consoling, knowing that those around me felt the same way I did about our team. No, the most frustrating thing is fans of the other teams who are still members of our community. One unnamed senior (he can be found zooming in a red CR-V) gets kicked out of group-chats every year for gloating about the Penguins. Nothing causes more frustration than Bruins fans and Lightning fans. After every loss, I'd wonder, “how in the world did this person grow up in D.C., go to the same school as me, and turn out supporting the wrong team?” Put another way, our environments were the same, our childhoods were spent with each other, we should all believe in the same thing.
The (almost homogeneous) support of the Capitals in our community reflects a broader idea—at the foundation of every community is a shared set of values and beliefs. Just as our life contexts (geography in this case) make us Caps fans, they also play a role in informing our values. Living in America makes us predisposed to democracy. Going to St. Albans makes us partial to the colors blue and white. At times (favorite sports teams come to mind), some are led astray by other influences (“my parents lived in Pittsburg” or some nonsense like that). However, there are beliefs more fundamental to a community than just the team we support (shockingly). They are the terms and conditions of the social contract we sign when we enter a larger group. They tell us what we should do, not just what we can do (shameless self-promotion: I wrote an article on this idea in the last edition of the St. Albans News if you are interested).
At St. Albans, you find them in the mission statement: our community exists to “welcome and embrace boys of all faiths and backgrounds to this caring community that learns, prays, plays, sings, and eats together.” As the Student Handbook describes us, we are “a community that commits itself to honor.” These are the beliefs and values that define our existence on Mount St. Alban—the ideas that cultivate a spirit of brotherhood. They permeate the cheers of BEEF Club and the camaraderie of every sports team. They contribute to a culture of late nights spent (mostly) studying over Google Hangouts and working together on study guides. They pervade every brushstroke in a classmate’s painting and every breath of air used to sing. They are the voices composing each “I believe that we will win” and every “Men of the Future Stand.”
Recently, however, our community has had to come to grips with the fact that we do not live up to the values we preach. Tolerating racism and antisemitism is no smaller crime than participating in it. Allowing others to be hurt and disrespected lies in direct contradiction to the values we bought into by attending St. Albans. That kind of behavior is not “welcoming and embracing” those of other backgrounds. Culture is the area under the curve of experience over time, a summation of the students who have walked these hallways and sat in these pews. Culture refuses to be undone by a mere change in the composition of the student body, whether it be the graduation of a senior class or the expulsion of students through disciplinary action. The normalization of antisemitism and racism is not a problem with the freshman culture; it is a problem with our collective culture. We must defend the values by which we claim to learn, study, play, and live.
It will mean finding the courage in uncomfortable situations to stand up to that which we believe is wrong. It involves drawing a line in the sand to let others know what we, as a community, will not find acceptable. It may mean becoming the single voice, out loud or on our phones, that reminds our friends of the tolerance and respect that binds us together as a community. And most difficult, it will mean recognizing that humor does not sanitize. Lest we forget, Jim Crow was the name of a racist comedian. As I have learned over my nine years as a Bulldog, St. Albans is a school filled with exceptional teachers and amazing students. We must demand better of our student leaders; they must be the ones to speak up when no one else will. Most importantly, we must ask more of ourselves: pointing a finger at anyone else still leaves three pointing back at us.
We live in a country and a world that, in many ways, face the same challenges we do. Every member of our community—not just a section of English I, or a group of teachers, or a set of prefects—must find the courage to begin a culture shift. We owe it to ourselves and to the students who come after us to get this right. If we can, we will become a voice louder than any “Let’s Go Caps!” To draw on the words of former President, one voice can change a group chat. And if it can change a group chat, it can change a community.