We wish to make one thing clear: The Tavern is a completely student-run publication. We are a thoughtpaper made by students, for students interested learning outside the boundaries of their own institutions. Yes, we are students: everyday we walk into our classrooms, sit around Harkness tables, and engage in exhilarating discussions with not only our peers, but also our teachers. Although students contribute to the heart of the discussions, teachers are still a crucial presence in any classroom. Whether they are sharing their wisdom or serving as mediators in heated debates, teachers foster our knowledge, passion, and humanity—there is always something we can learn from them.
Panel members conduct “Ten Minute T(ea)” interviews with teachers they deem to be especially beloved and respected by their respective institutions. The interview takes place over a cup of tea in the span of ten minutes. The interview is recorded and later transcribed by the interviewer. We hope that, by reading through these interviews, our readers will be able to gain special insight on money’s impact in boarding school, insight that can only be brewed from experience and age.
Ten Minute T(ea) with Ms. Shaunielle McDonald
Interview Conducted by Colin Khater & Thomas Walker
April 26, 2018
Q: As a student who attended boarding school, and now as a dean and teacher at the same school you attended, what are your experiences with boarding school? And, how are they unique?
A: I was a day student when I was a member of the community here, and so it’s peculiar to be a part of the boarding community now. I spend a lot of time reflecting on how many of my peers, close peers, are currently doing diversity and equity work in their various professions and I think some of that is a function of the stuff that we experienced when we were in school. I think, being a person of color, in a school that when I was attending didn’t always handle difficult moments, I think, with a sense of care towards all of the students. I think it’s filtered out in some ways. My perspective though, shifts every year because our student body is different every year and I think while we’re always trying to push the same community norms and expectations and trying to make this the best years in Brooks’ history, there’s always something different about the year and so my perspective has changed in the ways that we seek to engage students where they are. When I first started doing, and feeling a responsibility for, diversity work I made assumptions pretty freely about the kids of kids that I was going to be dealing with and some of that I think was based on my experience as a student but also I overgeneralized with some of my initial interactions with kids. One, I feel after spending time in the classroom and being a part of the faculty for the length of time that I have, I have a greater understanding of the wide varieties of lived experiences that are out there and I think it gives me a better understanding of how to be effective at diversity work and equity and inclusivity work which I think is really important in every school, but I would say is particularly important in independent schools.
I think one of the things I remember saying a few years ago, somebody said like “Why is this stuff important? Why do we need to do this stuff?” and I said that these schools, independent schools, are places where kids who have a lot of access to influence and influence is power. I think that we have a societal responsibility to be engaged in really tough conversations and to be expanding perspectives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to conferences and they talk about this legislator or that politician or this lobbyist or this CEO who had to shift their entire worldview because they encountered somebody who disrupted their experience. I’m always thinking about “What is the experience? What is the damage? The disarray? In the universe of that politician or that legislator or that lobbyist prior to that encounter. So I feel like, that education is meant to be transformative is a fact, but I feel like these students regardless of where they come from and regardless of the wealth of their families, we are coming and it’s a great coalition of power and access and we have the opportunity to influence so much going forward. That’s why it feels really, really important.
Q: With your experiences in work with community service programs here at Brooks, do we as privileged boarding students have any particular obligation to society? And societal works?
A: I do. I think... I live by this notion that anybody who woke up on any given day has a responsibility to improve the world, so that’s everybody’s responsibility. When you start to think about, you know, the “privileged students” or “kids of privilege,” I say “kids who come from benefit.” Privilege is such a loaded word, but I think there is a responsibility to be aware. I think whether you choose to counteract poverty or whether you choose to counteract other oppressive circumstances, and I’m intentionally not saying systems there because I think there is some debate out there about whether these systems exist for some people. I think that there is a responsibility for people who come from great benefit to engage in the community. I do worry, though; there’s always this easy way to fall into habits of being a savior, and I think that come from the ways that service can feel really good and so you think, “Oh, look at me, I’m making a difference in this person’s life,” and this has nothing to do with privilege. It’s just sort of walking into a circumstance knowing that you have the option to be in that place, whereas for the other person this is their reality that they can’t opt in and out of. And so you check in and do good work and then you check out and you go back to Chipotle, or whatever the case may be, and you think, “Oh wow, that was great.”
So it’s really important and it’s one of the things that I worked on doing when I was in charge of the community service program – really taking time to reflect and be aware and think, “How do you know that you’re actually making an impact?” and “How do you know that this is the right kind of impact?” And so really being mindful of that and then always asking kids to really think about why they are doing this. Are you doing this because you need something on your resume? Are you doing it because it feels good? Or are you doing it because you recognize the sincerity and the authenticity of the need and you’re trying to be a disruptor of the reason for the need, because one of the questions that I always would ask kids is what they would do when the service doesn’t feel good. At a place like Cor Unum, where maybe a patron is rude or doesn’t say thank you. Aren’t you just as necessary even though you don’t quite as comfortable or as valued? And thinking about those moments where a kid doesn’t want to do their homework and they’re being obstinate…what does that feel like? And what might be at the root of it? Why do some of us chose to check out at that moment while the kid doesn’t want to do their homework? Why do some of us push through? And why should we all try to push through, but while also seeing the humanity in others.
Q: Your role as a Self In Community teacher at Brooks has a large focus on personal honesty and development. So, as boarding school students, what would you say we owe to ourselves during our time at this school?
A: That’s a really… That’s a broad question. I said earlier that education is meant to be transformative. I would also argue that education is revolutionary and while you might say that because there’s a difference between private schools and public schools, where public schools really are meant to transform the masses in a way and sort of educate people who might not ordinarily have access to it, and now with mandated public education. There’s something different about private school because people don’t have to go to private school. People choose to go to private school. So… What do you owe? I think the responsibility lies with, one, always being aware that not everybody has the opportunity that you have, and that again has nothing to do with...I mean it has something to do with how much money your family has, right? But the fact that you’re in this school beside kids whose families don’t have money, but there’s still access there… not everybody has that access regardless of where you come from. I would say being appreciative of it. So what do you owe? Maybe a commitment to growth. I’m aware though that adolescence is this space in time where lots of things come up and sometimes your growth has to be all personal. It can’t all be intellectual. Sometimes that’s people’s journey. My journey in high school was very much about personal growth. Less so about academic.
Q: How important is it to give back to society as boarding school students? Would you say that community service should be a required activity during time at boarding school?
A: I think it’s very important. One of the things that I would like for us as a school to be thinking more intently – and I know that some of the administration and trustees would love for us to think about – is service learning opportunities as opposed to community service. I like that because I think it dovetails nicely with the thinking that its about dropping in, making a difference and stepping back out. Service learning is really more project based, and when you think about the direction that we’re looking to go in around skills, I think it lends itself there very handily. The requirement one is a little harder because I think that we would have to endure a cultural shift at Brooks if we were going to make community service or service learning or engaging in the community a requirement, because if we make it a requirement, then for kids who do need to have outside commitments in order to increase the looks that they’re going to get from colleges. How do you do that in a way that it doesn’t increase their burden? How are you going to program it in a way that it’s meaningful, right? If we’re going to honor our mission, but how do you program it in a way that's meaningful and not just box checking.
So, we did at one point have a community service requirement and then we moved away from it, I think for a number of reasons. It’s something that comes up in conversations every now and again but I don't think it goes anywhere because I think we take a look at what would need to be a number of things that would have to shift culturally and decide that we want to focus on other things or we’re just not ready to engage in that cultural shit that would be necessary, but I think the Self in Community classes offer a unique space to really consider that and that may be one of the things that we get to do. Whether you take the juniors and the seniors and you think about some legacy work, and the ways that that could be engaged on campus but also could be project work. What if seniors, who most’ve which have been accepted into colleges and will have completed AP’s within the first two weeks of May and then they have this stretch of time, what if some portion of their time that’s spent during their senior year in some of these classes was figuring out some project based work in clusters of seniors are working together and then they go off and whether it’s just on one day or maybe over the course of three or four days towards the end of their time as seniors really put the project into action. It’s always, though, about what the sustainable thing to do is. It’s not just about getting out there and making a difference once and saying, “Oh, we did that.” If we were going to actually engage in some sustainable projects, developments, or community-based projects, what would that look like? Again, that’s where you sort of get back to, “Can we do it? Do we want to do it? What’s our institutional muscle towards it?”
Ms. Shaunielle has a contagious energetic attitude, and is the director of diversity initiatives at Brooks. Aside from that she has been a dorm parent in Gardner for four years and teaches Self In Community classes.