Unfortunately, on my morning walkabout, I was alerted to the fact that one of the bookcase tops in the library had been vandalized. The wood was scratched, gouged and some words and/or names were visible. There was also a crude swastika scratched into the surface in a couple of places. I was shocked, angry and felt a sense of deep disappointment that anyone in our school community would draw such a symbol of hatred and oppression. The bookcase top was removed and I discussed the issue with our Upper School Dean of Student Life, David Pasquale. He decided to gather the Upper School student body together to share the news of this ugly situation, our position on such things and help in determining those responsible. I attended the end of the meeting and was glad to hear the overwhelming student response: anger, disbelief, and concern. Most commented on the sheer “stupidity” of the action and its thoughtlessness.
As I have often noted throughout the years, schools are messy places. Kids and adults do dumb things from time to time and on rare occasions, even worse. It is our responsibility in each situation to learn from these moments, individually and as a community. Consequences are a given and are based on the nature of the situation.
Any kind of action that demeans another individual or group is harmful and has no place in our school. Sadly, there are too many incidents of intolerance which have happened in our nation and the world. Once we recover from the immediate emotional impact (usually surprise or even shock), the idea that something, anything of this nature could happen in our school; we must then begin the process of addressing it and doing all we can to make sure it does not happen again.
It is always important that we try to determine the facts in such cases as we must hold anyone involved accountable for their actions. We also have to be fair and fair-minded. There have to be consequences for the sake of the community, as well as the individual(s). Yet, experience has taught me just as there are a number of things we must do, there are also other things we need to avoid. For example, it is important to not paint every student with the same “broad brush” or the school itself, because of the actions of an individual. The vast majority of the students here are thoughtful and considerate. It is equally important that even as we hold individual students accountable, they must also be given the chance to redeem themselves. Consequences that lack the opportunity for an individual to restore their place in the community are solely punitive.
We will address this and then move forward. After all, it is how we respond in these situations that further defines who and what we are as a community.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.