I attended a small, private Quaker school and am surprised that I managed to leave with my soul still intact. This means that I spent my high school years navigating a maze of 16-year-old BMW owners, pristine campus pathways lined by cherry blossom trees and a suffocating web in which privacy was scarce. My graduating class consisted of 73 students, who believe it or not, is a very average number for a grade at this type of institution. A world of teenagers who are attending school for $25,000 a year, combined with hallways and hollow ceilings that force the tiny amount of people within them to be on a first-name basis, was hell for someone like me.
I never really minded being surrounded by kids who were used to being immersed in luxury, although their blatant entitlement and ignorance born out of lack of exposure to any kind of real socioeconomic diversity did make me cringe. It wasn’t their backgrounds alone, it was the culture that they created—a vindictive, stereotyping cesspool that ridiculed tattoos, marijuana, colored hair and leaving the suburbs for a night out on the weekend. Most of the girls clutched their designer tote bags with perfectly manicured claws, dressed like new coats of drab wall paint in a modern office building, ready to judge the outliers like a hobby.
A good friend of mine suffered from severe depression and mania in her sophomore year. She dyed her hair purple and found it hard to leave her bed, drowning in the blanket of inevitable isolation that mental illness induces. Every day that she was absent from school or found herself too overwhelmed to stay for all eight hours, there were whispers about how she was probably out getting high and neglecting her responsibilities, assumptions that she was just lazy when in reality she was just sick. There was this inhumane emphasis on perfection, and it was alarming to watch it flourish in a time that should have demanded education in terms of acceptance. It was hard for me to see my friend decline, afraid to show up for class on the days that she could because she was afraid to be ridiculed for something that people didn’t understand. Dialogue around things that were raw and messy and real was more than discouraged, it was prohibited.
This is ironic because these institutions boast that a student’s experience in such a tight-knit environment where they are surrounded by the same peers and teachers for years cultivates a sense of community and togetherness. They don’t tell you how a school’s desire to maintain a reputation fails to prioritize the well-being of its students, causing the administration to brush over major issues so that conflicts are concealed. The way that connections contribute to this is a haunting injustice that I watched unfold when a classmate of mine failed to face social or academic consequences after sexually harassing multiple people, all because she was “popular” and her father was a teacher at the school. Because of the way that she presented her public image, likely combined with never being told “no,” she successfully and consistently indulged in sinister behavior at the expense of many innocent victims.
Unfortunately, this is how the school responded to most cases of bullying or harassment. If the “perpetrator” was a well-liked student who was somehow closely involved with the school, the chances of justice ever being executed were slim. Even Meeting For Worships—weekly gatherings that were supposed to be tailored to the importance of student voices—did not function for the purpose of equality. These mandatory events forced students to sit in “reflective” silence, offering them the chance to stand and share their sentiments on anything of their choice. However, because these meetings were infiltrated by biased staff, students were afraid to speak authentically about what was bothering them, especially if it involved being hurt by another member of the “community.”
Because of this culture of enablement and selective justice, I worry that the students who continue to grow up in this environment, specifically those who are allowed to behave how they please without consequence, will not become functioning members of society. With no taste of the real world, these entitled private school graduates will be in for a rude awakening when the school doors open and they are dumped into the eclectic mess that is adult life.