When the 2014-2015 school year started, it was in the wake of the killing of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. UHS students and adults began the school year engaged in difficult conversations, especially after the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict was announced. We faced a challenge as a community: we needed to norm what respectful dialogue looks like. Are anonymous comments more harmful or helpful? Where does one person’s freedom of speech end and another’s begin? Is it censorship or an act of care (or both?) to take down a poster that has offensive language that makes some community members feel unsafe? To find answers to these questions, in January of 2015, we had a town hall meeting. Students, faculty, and staff answered the question “What would make you feel safe in difficult conversations at UHS?” and we made a list of over forty answers. Then, a smaller group combed over these answers, found overlaps and recurring themes, and whittled these down to seven Community Agreements, which inform how we interact with each other as a community at UHS. They are:
- We understand that we all have ownership over creating a safe community.
- We remember that while we may have different backgrounds and experience things differently, we share a common goal of knowing and understanding more.
- We stay curious. We start from wherever we are, but we don’t end up where we started.
- We trust that discomfort is a catalyst for learning and growth.
- We give ourselves and others license to fumble; we accept that mistakes are a part of the learning process.
- We are flexible; we remain changeable. We allow perspectives to shift and alter.
- We embrace the principle that we form a web through our common humanity: what affects one person affects us all.