E Pluribus Unum: How Our Schools Strengthen America Through Diversity

Submitted by Matt DesChamps, Old Greenwich

As a member of the Greenwich Country Day School community for several years, I have experienced first hand the academic programming that has earned GCDS, which includes former President George HW Bush among its most notable alumni, a reputation as a welcoming community. In addition to strong core academic classes, GCDS and many other independent and public schools have developed important diversity and inclusion programs as integral parts of their curriculum to help prepare students for meaningful engagement as global citizens in a complex and diverse world. 

The annual Cider and Doughnuts event, which has recently been cynically critiqued, is an example of an opportunity for students of color to meet and share a commonality that is often difficult for minorities to experience in their day to day lives. Such events foster a sense of belonging and, of course, all are welcome. 

Inclusivity and related affinity events are an important part of the educational process for all students. While some may feel threatened by diversity activities conducted at our schools, I would suggest they take up Mr. Rhodie’s offer to meet with him and other minority students—specifically, students of color and LGBTQ students—and attend one of the many events hosted at GCDS and other Greenwich schools throughout the year. Attendees, who struggle to understand the benefits of these programs, will undoubtedly learn about the importance of equality programming in preparing students for citizenry in our diverse country and for global and international engagement. Well designed diversity programs are not “woke” exercises but rather provide opportunities for all students to engage in meaningful discussions that are sometimes uncomfortable and challenging for the participants. Importantly, they allow for and foster diversity of thought and opinions and encourage honest debate and candid discussions—opportunities to both listen and be heard. 

Beyond enhancing and enriching the lives of the students for their own sake, diverse social interaction prepares students for a global workplace where their careers will likely take them to far and away places both at home and abroad, encountering classmates, teammates, friends, colleagues, co-workers, neighbors and clients of many nationalities, sexual identities and religious and political affiliations. A diverse education equips students with the tools they need to engage in an interconnected, multicultural society. Indeed, programs that promote equality expand the mind and facilitate greater empathy and emotional IQ. Importantly, diversity education facilitates “lateral thinking”—an important mechanism of problem solving that uses insights from many different areas of knowledge and experience to solve a problem. 

The former chair of the Republican National Committee and head of George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, Ken Mehlman, who I have known and respected for decades, is a steadfast advocate for equality and diversity and the value of lateral thinking. Mr. Mehlman summarizes it best as he reflected on the past few years :

“Individuals, because of their skin color, can too often be treated differently by our law-enforcement system. It showed how so many individuals, based on their socioeconomic status, fall behind in their learning in school. It showed — whether with the Asian American community or, more recently, with some of the antisemitism we have seen — how ancient hatreds that we thought were gone actually remain. So, I think that we always need to appreciate the work that we all have to do for equality, opportunity, and unity.”

Greenwich Country Day School and our town’s schools generally understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity as a critical part of their core-curriculums. Such educational experiences enhances the lives of their students and our community and provides the best possible hope for promoting the values we all undoubtedly strive for: freedom, equality, opportunity and UNITY for all of us.