“None of my schools have ever been the same,” says Adunni Abrams ’18.
“I experienced four different types of schools, two of which gave me polar opposite experiences,” she says. “In one, Poly Prep, I was the only black kid in a predominantly white school. In another, North Star Academy, I was a black kid who didn’t have the same cultural experiences as my classmates. Even though I went to school with people who looked like me, I felt like a stranger. At Maple Leaf International School, I was with a bunch of white kids who acted more Trinidadian than I did, and attending that school helped me acknowledge stereotypes.”
Before Dublin, from elementary school through middle school, Abrams attended Poly Prep, an independent day school in Brooklyn, New York; Maple Leaf International School in Trinidad; Phyl’s Academy, a preparatory school in Brooklyn, North Star Academy, a public middle school in Brooklyn, and Trey Whitfield School, an independent school in Brooklyn.
When Abrams led her Senior Presentation, which invites every senior to present for twenty-five minutes at Morning Meeting for the whole school community, she told this story.
“When we were told about Senior Presentation at Dublin, we were told to find topics that are important to us and that show who we are,” says Abrams. So she told Dublin about her understanding of identity and how it has been impacted by her education.
“My goal was to let people know more about who I am and also to promote how we can better interact with diversity and inclusion,” she says. “I thought that [telling my story] would be a good way to put people in my shoes and to have people think about how they can interact with others who have different backgrounds or cultures in the best way possible.”
“My presentation was about learning to adjust to different cultures, being aware of your privileges, educating others about your culture, being open to new or unfamiliar cultures, and seeing the importance of being able to interact with various different people,” she describes.
“I wanted Dublin students to know that it is not easy to understand other cultures. But I am glad that I went through that struggle of adjusting to new environments through my schooling because I learned so much, and I am able to interact with so many people from so many different cultures,” she says.
“A lot of people don’t know how to interact with other people, and it’s not easy. It’s hard. People are looking for what’s easy, and it won’t be. But it is meaningful,” Abrams says.
“When I say that people don’t know how to interact with other people, I mean that people are raised differently and in different environments. In these separate settings, they develop traits that won't be similar to your own because you yourself were raised in a different setting. And people don't think about needing to adjust the way they interact in order to relate to another person. If you grow up in one place, you might not learn that what you say is sensitive or insulting or incomplete,” she says. “For example, I remember once saying something, and everyone around me got really upset. I didn’t really know that what I said was hurtful. I had no idea. But the experience of learning that I had that impact taught me what I could do differently in the future.”
“Understanding how people might express more emotions than others in different ways and contexts is also important,” she elaborates. “So someone might get scared when someone gets super passionate about something because they don’t understand that certain emotions could be viewed differently in different cultures. Everyone reacts to things in a different way because of your environment, because of the traits you’ve developed to become who you are. You need to have certain strengths, certain habits, certain ways of communicating in your own community to adapt, to function in your world.”
“It’s like wearing different attire,” Abrams explains. “It’s like putting on a mental coat. That’s how I think about how people adapt to their cultures and communities. If you are from somewhere warm and it’s freezing, you learn to put on a coat, even if you are used to warm weather.”
“You need to try to learn what someone else’s words mean, what someone’s actions mean. What’s underneath it all. If you can’t interact with someone, you can’t develop a connection with them. And this lack of connection is what has caused so many problems we face in the world today.”
“When we went to the Students of Color Conference in September, I said something similar in a workshop,” says Abrams. “A girl came up to me at the Conference and said that she also came from a different background from people she was around who looked like her, and she said that it was really amazing to talk to someone else who has a similar perspective. I talked to people after after my presentation who had all different kinds of situations like mine, but they got their experience through where they live—such as being the only black person in your community or your family or coming to Dublin from a very different place.”
Abrams believes that being aware of your privileges and learning to interact with other cultures is essential to learning and living.
“You develop this kind of bubble that desensitizes you to other people’s problems when you are only around people who have the same privileges as you,” she says. “ For example, say I had a ton of money and was talking about it loudly and ‘blah, blah, blah,’ going on and on, and I may not notice that the people in the room with me do not have that money. I don’t think about how that—me talking like that about money—impacts them. You don’t realize how good something is until you experience something else. Or you don’t see what you are privileged to have until you learn from and talk to people who don’t have it.”
An important component of learning to interact with different cultures is sharing yours and educating others about your culture, as Abrams says.
“It’s important because through teaching people about your culture, you are able to eliminate stereotypes, you are able to teach someone how to interact with others of a similar community. When you understand how to interact with people, you create bonds,” she says. “No one person has a culture that’s separate from everyone else. Everything you learn about one person helps you interact with tens or hundreds or thousands more.”
Abrams gives the example of Trinidadian accents.
“I have taught friends accents that I do with my family,” she says. “If you have a friend come to you and say something your family always says, it feels like home. Sharing your culture is bringing a piece of your home to this community, to Dublin.”
“While at Dublin, I have been able to hear other people's perspectives,” she says. “All I had before was mine. Here, I am able to hear contrasting opinions from different kinds of people. At my previous schools, it was me and a bunch of kids nothing like me or a lot like me. Here, you are able to hear from others with all different perspectives and then think about what you value and believe based on evaluating those many perspectives.”
“In class, in APELAC, talking about racism and prejudice or Critical Theory [in AP English Literature and Composition], it makes me want to think about everything more. It makes me want to come to a better conclusion than I have had before based on the knowledge gained.”
“You are taught how to think here, in all disciplines,” says Abrams. “It is not a textbook environment. You are provoked to think and come to questions and answers on your own. It is from a math class where the teacher doesn’t give you the answer—they let you struggle a little to figure it out with the knowledge you already have to a literature class where you discuss and explore an idea that you haven’t fully formed yet. This environment really builds that critical thinking.”
And critical thinking is essential to interacting with people of diverse cultures.
“Critical thinking helps you analyze yourself along with analyzing others,” Abrams elaborates. “You become better at reading situations and environments. When you are more aware of where you are, who you’re around, what they think, what you think, and where there might be tension, you become better at interacting.”
She continues: “Thinking about what to say and what not to say, how to think about how what you think lines up with what others might experience, recognizing that you don’t know what you think you know helps you to develop social skills, empathy toward others, a higher level of knowledge.
You develop a love for other people.”
“What do I mean by developing a love for other people?” Abrams asks. “Well, there are some situations where someone would see someone different from them and not even see them as whole or human. But if you listen and learn to connect, you begin to see people as humans. When you are young, the world revolves around you and you are surrounded by objects that orbit around you. You are the center. As you learn, you start to see people as their true selves who have their own worlds.”
As Abram’s senior presentation and subsequent reveal, there is much to learn when we work to understand the diverse world and worlds we meet.