December 9, 1994; during the very same month that Concord Academy received its first computer, CA was facing one of the most difficult questions it has come across. How do minority groups receive representation on all-school councils? The system in place at the time—a similar system to the one we use today—did not allow for much minority representation. Many different, and newly-formed, affinity spaces across campus felt that they lacked representation in these all school discussions. This atmosphere of inequality prompted the raising of a proposal—allow the co-heads of affinity spaces a seat on the all-school council. This idea subsequently split the CA community, with one side appreciating the representation, and the other side deeming it ‘too much’ or ‘unfair’ towards those outside of affinity spaces. The proposal was eventually struck down and vetoed, leading to yet another period with a lack of minority representation. The Centipede ran its December issue a few weeks after the striking down of the proposal—running the thoughts of numerous affinity co-heads regarding the falling-through of the proposal. Let us take a look back and see what these affinity spaces were like 27 years ago:
Formed two years before the striking down of the proposal after the breakup of Harambee (the Black and Latine support space) into itself and Unidad Umojaa (to later become Umoja)—Alianza Latina contained nine members and was co-headed by Rob Bateau ’95 and Lizzie Vargas ’95. Their promise as an affinity space was to support and provide a space for those with Latin heritage, even if their heritage is mixed. The group was a tight-knit one, with both Rob and Lizzie attributing the success of the group to that quality. Additionally, they wanted to educate others outside of the community, a goal put into action with the twenty books on Latino culture they recently had donated to the library.
Though the club was running smoothly, their bid to receive a vote on the all school council was recently quashed. “The pain just won’t go away,” Rob commented, as the reception towards the proposal from the student body was surprisingly negative. He and Lizzie urged the student body, whom they claimed were quite stuck in their ways, to explore the possibility of additional representation—and to recognize the thought, time, and effort put in by the organizations who made movement on this proposal to aid student underrepresentation.
All facts and opinions obtained from the Alianza Latina features article, written by Katie Kavanaugh ’96.
The Gay/Straight Alliance (G/SA)
At the time six years into its run, co-heads Kenny Hillman ’95, Krissy Coniaris ’95, Noah Rubin ’97, of the still-new Gay/Straight Alliance (G/SA) (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Support Group) faced the same question as every other affinity co-head of this time. Their club—established 33 years ago, as the Gay and Lesbian Support Club, with CA being the first high-school to do so—focused on the destigmatization of gay culture and awareness of the specific issues gay people face. A member of the G/SA was even said to have been testifying on behalf of Gay, Bisexual, and Lesbian youth at an official state meeting the following week of this article’s publishing.
Kenny specifically expressed his feelings that most people in this community would face another friend or community member coming out, which could be quite a shock if the person was not prepared. So, they wanted to maintain a space that allowed for an easier transition when learning about this part of one’s identity.
When asked about the recent cancellation of the proposal, Kenny conveyed that they have expressed their views numerous times during all-school-meetings: their class representatives do not represent them. Therefore, they felt that their disappointment was well-justified. The Centipede article then cited that it was a momentous event that gay and straight people could work together toward a common goal, a sentiment which truly depicts the way gay people were viewed—as unusual and out-of-place.
A lot has changed since the writing of that article, as the G/SA has now rebranded as the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, as the terms Gay-Straight create an aire of binary. The now GSA (with no slash) is additionally joined by its affinity space counterpart—Q2 (Queer & Questioning)—as well as numerous other, more specialized, spaces, such as QPOC (Queer People of Color), and most recently, TAG (Trans Affinity Group), allowing for many of those in the community to feel comfortable and welcome in a space.
Though not an affinity space, the G/SA played a major role in allowing for the creation of these additional spaces, an accomplishment that should not go unnoticed.
All facts and opinions obtained from the Gay/Straight Alliance features article, written by Russ Miller ’97.
Asian Students’ Association (ASA)
This affinity space—the predecessor to Asian Club—is the most heterogeneous affinity space for a minority group at CA, composed of many different Asian students, ranging from those with roots in the Middle East and India, and stretching all the way to Southeast and East Asia. The highly diverse affinity space provided many questions for the four co-heads, Saima Chowdhury ’95, Iwei Chen ’95, Aïda Ishak ’95, and Nathee Limpisvasti ’95, as some of those in the community questioned whether or not this group could be represented as a collective, especially since Asian and Asian-American students made up 13% of the student body—the largest minority percentage in the school.
According to Iwei, “Asian students have a unique perspective on American culture since they accept Asian and western values in their lives.”
Saima chimed in: “Though others outside the group question whether such a diverse group as we are could be unanimous on a school issue, we believe that an Asian representative on council is more likely to understand the needs of Asian students than a non Asian-class rep, head of school, or non-Asian head of boarders.”
The affinity space heads said their main issue regarding the status of the school at the time was that some American students just don’t try to make themselves acquainted with the foreign students, and with the additional language and cultural barrier the international kids face, their opinions regarding general school policy were often silenced. “Thus, foriegn students supported the proposal because it would have given them the opportunity to voice their concerns without being ignored.” Iwei continued, “Asian-Americans are generally not considered to be a minority group, [the] reason we stated that ‘we are the other minority’ during the announcement period derives from the fact that for the most part we are the invisible and ignored minority.”
The ‘model minority’ concept, Iwei argued, allowed for the erasure of problems Asian people face. The proposal would have allowed for the voices of Asian and Asian-American students to finally be heard on a greater level. Saima explained, “Had it been passed, the school would have made a huge step towards diversity [… ] a vote on council from us would have symbolized equality. The proposal was the perfect opportunity for us to get our voices heard on council.”
Specifically, the ASA would have brought forward ideas of actively recruiting Asian faculty and would have raised concern over the availability of financial aid for international students.
Additionally, the ASA wanted to continue their status as a politically active body, and seeked the community’s acknowledgement of their members as strong individuals who find unity in their diversity.
Similarly to the Gay/Straight Alliance, this club spawned different, more precise, affinity spaces, such as SASS (South Asian Student Society), SEAS (Southeast Asian Students), and EASA (East Asian Student Association), in the following years. The work put in by the members of the ASA should be remembered, as their influence as a group is evident.
All facts and opinions obtained from the Asian Students’ Association Features article, written by Elizabeth Shim ’95.
Umojaa, at that time spelt with an additional a, served a similar purpose back then as it does today—serving as the community’s Black affinity group. The club—the other half of Harambee beginning in 1990 before splitting into Unidad Umojaa and Alianza Latina—strives to create a safe space for individuals who face similar struggles of being a minority at a predominantly white school. Umojaa aimed to create a space where any student, faculty, and staff who identify as Black, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latine, African-American, or African, can feel comfortable in a place that can at times feel isolating.
At this time, the co-heads of Umojaa were busy organizing Martin Luther King day with the Student Diversity Committee—as they felt that last year’s MLK day had some issues. A Umojaa co-head, Linda Onyeagoro ’96, shared, “This year we want to include people who knew Dr. King or were involved within the civil rights movement,” as she believed that too often we forget about other less well known figures in the movement, and it is important to keep the memory of them alive.
Regarding the recent striking down of the proposal, Linda’s disappointment was apparent; however, she remained hopeful for the future, as once CA determines a new strategy for minority representation on council, she believed that the group will be able to speak on difficult issues. “There will be an appeal. We’ll fight and fight until we get heard.”
All facts and opinions obtained from the Umojaa Features article, written by Becca Ogrodnick ’97.
Concord Academy has progressed since this time, now allowing two community and equity co-heads to sit at council meetings—a newfound replacement for the old proposal. The co-heads, currently Kiran Bhat ’22 and Gio Clark ’22, are elected by their peers to work with the C&E office. According to CA’s website, the team works in close cooperation with the Dean of Students and Community Life to shepherd and advance CA’s diverse ideals. Their role in council allows for more voices to be heard when council reviews policies, discusses issues, and formulates proposals. All proposals passed at all-school meetings are then recommended to the Head of School. Similar initiatives such as the Gender Equity Task Force and the First Dean of Academic Program and Equity being hired in February of 2020 help ensure equity and equality throughout CA.
Though we have made progress since the 1990’s, it is still important to look back at these events and see what we can extrapolate from them. The hard work and effort the organizations and student body completed, though not successful back then, should not go unnoticed, as it helps to define us as a school now, and allows for us to make the progress we have.