Issue 23: Information - Interpretation & Action
"...we must strive to voice our disagreements with respect, courtesy, and without fear."
The Power, Inevitably, and Necessity of Voicing Disagreements
Thompson Uwanomen, Phillips Andover Academy
Dec. 24, 2018
On December 10th, 2018, Phillips Academy Andover’s student council and cluster deans hosted an All School Congress. From 6:45 pm to 8:00 pm, participating faculty and students divided into groups with the common agenda to discuss issues that affect both parties - parietal rules and student/faculty relations on campus. With the goal of encouraging safety, trust, and inclusion as core values to room visiting policies, discussing current rules, and reviewing alternatives to present school regulations, the student council asked all members to contribute. In the end, the All School Congress became platform where students and faculty could respectfully share different points of view, propose change, and most importantly, voice their disagreements.
In any discussion between a large group of people, disagreement becomes inevitable. According to author and educator Charles R. Swindoll, “There will always be opposing viewpoints and a variety of perspectives on most subjects. Tastes differ as well as preferences. That is why they make vanilla and chocolate and strawberry ice cream, why they build Fords and Chevy’s, Chryslers and Cadillacs, Hondas and Toyotas.” The way people think about something can oftentimes differ from others. While one person may feel strongly about an idea, belief, or tradition, another may disagree. This difference in opinions, sometimes feared and met with hurtful resistance, should instead be cherished and vocalized so long as it brings about healthy change. As future leaders and scholars, it is not our duty to force someone else to think differently or cast away how they feel without hesitation. Instead, it is our job to create and maintain a culture where voicing disagreements does not beget hostility or stir fear, but rather serves as an avenue to induce positive change.
At Andover, we must strive to voice our disagreements with respect, courtesy, and without fear. In my current Physics and Math class, I’ve noticed that disagreeing with someone about an answer to a question or how a principle, concept, or rule works can be either a quick and straightforward process or become toxic and competitive with people constantly trying to one up each other in terms of intelligence. Moreover, whenever a teacher proposes and puts into action a rule that works against the mental health or wellbeing of their students, either by adding too much work or giving little time to complete assignments, students often keep quiet, afraid that their disagreement will work against them and come off as a personal attack that could undermine the support that they receive in the future. In my English classes at Andover, however, disagreement between peers has only been insightful and thought-provoking. Students enjoy sharing their personal opinions about a text and leave room for others to contribute and explain their own. While doing so, they speak without alarm or fear of being harassed or ridiculed, knowing fully well that each and every member will listen to and consider their opinion because they’re in said class with the goal to learn. Within such a collaborative environment, voicing disagreement becomes simple, practical, and necessary, a condition that must pervades other facets of life at Andover such as politics. Since Andover houses a majority of liberal thinkers, conservative students and faculty can often feel alienated as the minority, afraid to voice their opinions because they expect verbal and social backlash. As a student body, we must make room for those who hesitate when they want to share, and let our members openly disagree in a kind and respectful space.
As students, we must establish a culture where voicing disagreement can be seen as a necessary channel to create beneficial change. About four days after Andover’s All School Congress, the deans followed up in a schoolwide email. In their message, the deans gave a summary of reoccurring themes discussed, a number of ideas raised during the meeting, and next steps that should be taken into account including revisions to current policies to improve inclusion and communication. By having students and faculty dive into conversation about parietal rules and vocalize their own personal disagreements, the All School Congress considered each and every participants’ opinion and worked towards changing the nature of the Academy for the better. In this way we see just how vital voicing disagreement truly is. To voice one’s opinion is to express their freedom to think and speak, a right that everyone at Andover should hold and make full use of, not just in a friendly exchange of ideas, but to provoke necessary, positive change as they see fit.