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Silence: A Reflection on “EDI”

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

Reader, you have heard the term “EDI” before. The acronym appears in the first five, over the PA, on the lips of students, or teachers; in newsletters sent home at the end of the week.

I cannot gauge your reaction to “EDI.” Every individual will respond differently to these weighty words capable of stirring up a slew of memories, feelings, confusion, discomfort, anger, relief, or perhaps, in my case, uncertainty.

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion are words not easily defined. On a basic level, diversity references a group of people that are individualistic and may possess different values or attributes. These individuals, depending on their unique circumstance, are given the appropriate opportunities to thrive. This is equity. Inclusion—the final, and perhaps most tricky piece to pin down—is the sense that every individual is welcomed and respected in a given community.

Perhaps, like me, you politely listen to these definitions, digesting the words as they are; muddled, sharp to touch. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Redolent in racism, in guilt, in frustration, in the blunt fact that Collingwood School, like most communities, is not perfect. To many, these words are reminders that we have yet to put Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into practice.

Silence is a common response to this unsettling notion . Whatever your situation—victim, bystander, aggressor — it is easy to recoil from “EDI.”

For example, I planned to publish this article in December, but hemmed and hawed for months, caught in a perpetual cycle of revision. How might one discuss Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion? How might one define these words? How do I know if I am saying the right thing? Truth be told, no amount of revising, and editing, can prepare me to say the right thing. Although it is important to handle your words carefully, recognizing their power – it is also important to acknowledge that saying the wrong thing is a possibility – indeed, it might even be likely. But this is okay. Because, when we slip up, we are corrected. And we learn from our mistakes.

A handful of students formed the “EDI” in response to a voice. Newly sprung this summer, morphing from week to week; the campaign is messy. Imperfect. Stumbling forward on spindly legs – “EDI” is propelled by the feedback delivered by students. The committee is cruxed not on people who simply listen to them, but respond.

As such, on November 30th, a group of Collingwood students, with the aid of Mr.Pimentel, hosted an open conversation on racism. The Senior boy’s basketball team attended, along with a miscellany of other students, including myself. We sat on chairs that rasped against the concrete of the Finnie Plaza. Before the “conversation” officially started at 4 PM, we took turns remarking on the frigidity of the weather. Or on the darkness of the afternoon. We stared at our shoes. We fidgeted. We sat, silent. The apprehension was palpable.

The “conversation” begun with a list of rules delivered in enviably neat and careful sentences :

Step forward, step back

Take away only insight

Be respectful. This is a conversation – not a debate.

Then: the speaker dropped a list of questions.

What does racism look like?

Why does racism persist?

How can I use my platform of privilege to dismantle racism?

The conversation was opened up to all attendees. Silence reigned. Seeping through the circle of chairs – of students, refusing to make eye contact.

Someone came forward eventually; with a comment, or another question; but these bouts of silence occurred again and again. A lapse of fidgeting. A lapse in where we acknowledged our discomfort.

There is a line of poetry written by the Irish wordsmith Y.B Yeats. He writes:

Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.”

In this circle of chairs we convened around silence. Our center was composed of a lack of dialogue, by emptiness, an emptiness that we knew had to be filled. This silence could not last. We were eying it too ferociously, too sheepishly, for it not to fall apart. And, of course, it ultimately did. A shaky voice coughed itself into being – frail, unsure, but nourishing in the relief it gave to others – uncomfortable people consoled by the fact that someone else had the courage to break the silence.

This article was supposed to be about the virtues of silence. How we tend to misinterpret silence as the hallmark of a bystander, but, in reality, silence leaves room for listening. Sitting, silent, scrawling notes during this November conversation – this is what I told myself. I was being respectful. I was listening, rather than dominating. I was leaving room on my platform of privilege for others to speak.

Looking over my notes now, I want to revise my interpretation of silence. During the conversation, many people proposed the same solution, or a piece of one, in different ways. My notes are speckled with a common refrain; we must act. We must be the example of what the active fight against racism looks like. We must not succumb to passivity. To Silence.

Yes, people have different perspectives, conflicting ideas that manifested themselves during this conversation. Some believed that the responsibility to dismantle racism rested in the government, in institutions that can dole out “punishments”whilst others expressed the power of social capital. Of normal people coming forward. But these contradictions, once proposed, did not derail the conversation. No one outwardly opposed each other but rather, simply fit their perspectives together, a little unevenly, a little imperfectly, to form some semblance of a solution

When there is emptiness, a collapsing center—as we may regard the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community—we try to fill it with any number of things. Some things work in patching up this chasm, other things do not. What matters is that we are trying. Our community is imperfect. This imperfection should not be ignored, nor pondered silently as we wait for someone else to tell us how to fix it, as I am apt to do.

Silence is indubitably an important quality. In this conversation, silence played an important role; enabling us to digest the comments of others, to reflect and craft a careful response. Most of all, it showed us that discussing uncomfortable subjects is preferable to sitting together in silence. There was a huge wave of relief when someone broke a lingering lapse in conversation. In this context, voices became infinitely more valuable. More powerful. We clung to each other’s words like anchors. As I have learned, silence is important because it makes us realize that it must be broken. With this article I break my own inhibitions to discuss uncomfortable subject matter. With this article I hope I may remind you of the value of your words.

I have left much unsaid. As such, please comment below with your thoughts. Pose any questions you might have, or respond to the following prompts:

In what context is silence acceptable? In what context is it not?

How might we respond to the “collapsing center” in our community? How have you responded?

Why does EDI matter to you?

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