Politics have taken center stage over the previous year which saw protests, insurrections and controversy. Harvard-Westlake (HW) students and faculty certainly have their own opinions about these political issues.
Recent social media posts and discourse have questioned whether HW has become politicized. According to Head of Middle School Jon Wimbish, politicization is when “things that don’t necessarily or don’t naturally fall into the political sphere” become political issues.
A recent Spectrum survey discussed the school’s political environment and how comfortable people felt discussing these things. 53.5% of students identified as Democratic while 20.9% identified as Republican (the remainder identified as none or a minor party). Of those Democrats, 77% of people felt comfortable speaking about their political views; however, 79.4% of Republicans felt uncomfortable speaking about their political views.
“I think it’s unfortunate when anyone feels that they can’t speak their truth,” Wimbish said. “If you have a conservative view … and you say it in a respectful way, you should have a right to have a conversation. It’s a shame. I think it’s how people learn, sometimes because of one’s entrenchment in one’s political ideology, you can become unaware of other viewpoints.”
Coupled with multiple students writing in the survey about experiences where they felt as if they were being labeled and accused, we can see that we should strive to be more understanding, according to Wimbish.
“When people do bring up, do voice their opinions, we have to be gracious, and seek to understand,” he said. “It’s on both sides. Shouting accusations is not helping.”
Additionally, around fifty percent of the respondents said that they “sometimes”, or do feel that their teachers try to enforce their political views on them. Student responses said that teachers frame questions to make people who respond negatively to them seem racist, that English classrooms feel especially political, and that the school’s left lean shows up in classrooms.
Wimbish stated that this shouldn’t be happening. “I don’t think that it is the role of the teacher to imprint their political views on someone else,” he said. “This school year, with the election cycle, and politics taking the center stage, in so many ways, we talked about it as a faculty, and about how there are – we have to keep our political opinions to ourselves.”
Student responses to questions for additional comment varied. Many responses showed people feel as though they are automatically labeled for voicing their opinions, and many responses described feeling restricted, shut down, or accused. Responses included “I feel silenced and forced to conform by every aspect of the school” and “I feel the school has an agenda and it makes people feel bad for who they are,” which make it clear that some students do not feel HW offers a safe space.
HW has made it clear in statements that people in educational spaces should be able to voice their opinions freely without fear of retribution. According to the recent survey data, students feel that HW needs to do a better job of providing those spaces for all students, regardless of political belief.