By Jethro Swain
In second grade I moved from Greenville, South Carolina to Portland, Oregon. It was just me and my dad living in my Aunt’s vacant, third story apartment on Davis and 22nd for the first month while my mom and sister stayed back to finish with the move. The first days of second grade my dad dressed me up as a pint-sized version of himself; in a long sleeve collared shirt and slacks. However, since it was early September, it was still hot in Oregon. The fifth day of school was a particularly hot day, apparently, because I was overheating in my preppy, business look. Bridlemile Elementary School had no air conditioning, so the only thing to keep my class cool was one large fan, across the room from where I was sitting. The longer the day went on the hotter I got, but I didn’t want to speak up about it. I was embarrassed. Since I was afraid to stand out from everyone else, I stayed silent, and let my state grow worse and worse.
This Tuesday, February 14, a letter was sent to Mo Copeland. The letter, created by OES alumni, has over 90 signatures and counting — ranging from the class of 1980 all the way to the class of 2016, including former Head of Upper School Jordan Elliott.
It starts with this:
We write to you today as alumni deeply concerned with OES’ lack of action in the face of recent events that threaten our shared sense of decency and justice, as well as the school’s own educational mission.
The events it’s referring to are President Donald Trump’s executive orders to ban members of certain countries from entering the United States. The ban has sparked immense controversy throughout the country, and the world.
Within the OES community, multiple requests from faculty members to denounce the travel ban were not heard or simply ignored. Social media posts by OES from the women’s march were taken down shortly after being posted. The Alumni Letter criticizes how, in the opinion of the authors and signatories, OES has been inactive in the recent months following the travel ban, and has done more harm than it has realized by staying silent. The writers state that OES’, “appeasement makes a mockery of the idea that we are ‘Always Open.’” The message of the letter can be summed up in one extracted sentenced:
We ask that OES publicly speak out against President Trump’s immigration ban, and that it strongly affirm and respect its commitment to multiculturalism, its international students, and all marginalized people.
Since the ban was first issued on January 27th, and even since the second Tuesday of last November, many political, religious, and business organizations have spoken out on the issue, releasing statements that affirm where their organization stands.
With so many groups speaking out, what sort of message does remaining silent give? That’s the question the letter asks of OES, since OES has yet to make a clear public statement to the entire community on where it stands.
When asked by the Dig for a comment, Mo Copeland responded. She first apologized to the authors of the letter for responding to the Dig, because of a short time frame before this article was released, before she had a chance to respond to them. She then asked to share a letter of her own that was sent to all OES staff three days after the immigration ban was announced. The letter states:
Over the last few days, it has become clear that many of President Trump’s campaign promises are being realized and may impact our school community, in particular, the immigration and travel ban executive order issued on Friday.
I want everyone to know that members of our community who are from outside the United States, have family members who may be impacted, or come from different religious backgrounds, will continue to be protected and supported by the school.
The letter addresses the problems of the immigration ban, encourages conversation, and restates OES’ core values. She ended her response with this statement:
We, as a school, value all voices and believe in dialogue and conversation as a way to uncover deep truths. I am more than happy to begin that dialogue with the alumni who wrote and signed the letter to me from yesterday. I have already responded to a group of parents who have asked to engage on this topic, and I look forward to that conversation.
Mo’s letter suffers in comparison to the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon, Michael Hanley, who has released a statement that makes clear the church’s response to the result of the election, dating back to November. Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley said this in his statement:
There are moments in our history in which the Church is presented with an opportunity to affirm who we are, and who we endeavor to be. Too often, we have been passive in the face of injustice, bigotry, and oppression…As a people committed to the incarnation of God in the human body of Jesus Christ and the mystical body of the gathered community, we affirm that our very bodies must serve the cause of healing, love and justice.
In addition, Catlin Gabel Head of School Tim Bazemore released this statement in response to the travel ban:
I must speak out, however, against a government action that violates basic human rights and our school’s mission and values. I believe that last Friday’s Executive Order banning Syrian refugees, temporarily barring entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and suspending the Refugee Admissions Program is antithetical to the goals of educating your children.
So why is it that OES has not come out to follow in the footsteps of our sister school and our Episcopalian leader? So far OES has chosen to stay silent, and our silence may speak louder words.
Since November 8th, the Upper School community has tried to poke and prod these large, influential issues, and get people to talk about what’s happening. But nothing has seemed to really work, effectively at least. Currently morale around the school seems down; teachers and students aren’t speaking honestly. Maybe that’s because it can’t work unless we have clear direction from our administration. We should remember that to do nothing is to make a choice.
Now it’s entirely clear where a large group of alumni, Catlin Gabel, and Oregon Bishop Michael Hanley stand on this issue. The letter, with its signatures and language, resonates a meaningful message to our community, and puts an ultimatum on the table for OES; either speak or let its silence do all of the talking. The alumni letter ends with two powerful statements:
We believe that the consequences of remaining silent through this moment will far outweigh the costs of taking action.
OES can and must be a powerful force for good. That is the institution we believe in. We need it now more than ever.
Towards the end of my fifth day of second grade, I couldn’t hold in my suffering any longer. I was so hot that it hurt, and I began to cry. I slowly let out tears and sniffles, and eventually the eyes of the entire classroom were on me. I was instructed to ditch the collared shirt for my white undershirt, and I was moved to a seat right in front of the fan. If I had told my teacher I was hot from the very beginning, I would have resolved the situation immediately. What I was trying to avoid the whole day, embarrassment, had come to fruition in the worst way. In the end, I didn’t say anything because I was scared of standing out from all my new peers, but being silent quickly became the worst thing I could’ve done.