Beginning The Conversation: The Editor-in-Chief Sits Down With Mr. Garrison

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A big goal of The Roundup is to increase communication between the student and the administration. With this goal in mind and with the intention of sparking conversation concerning important social issues, Mr. Garrison and I sat down on February 2nd to discuss the beginning of the second semester, social justice topics, and the future of Jesuit in light of current world events.

Boy: As we near the end of the first six weeks of the second semester, what are your thoughts on how everything began? How have the students been keeping up with protocols?

Garrison: Pretty good. I’m seeing a few more noses than I’d like to see. And it’s funny that you asked because I was actually thinking about it this afternoon.

I’m trying to figure out a way to tactfully remind everybody–but forcefully at the same time–because it’s not something for us to mess around with. I have to balance that with by, and large, people are doing a very good job because if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here.

It, unfortunately, only takes a few people to mess it up, so I think I’m just hypersensitive. I want to make sure I’m clear on that. I think people are doing a very good job. The people who are not, I need them to hop on the train with the rest of us. I don’t think it would take many to mess this up, but we’re here and I’m happy about that. 

Boy: Has there been any discussion about upcoming/postponed school events? i.e. Prom, graduation, etc.

Garrison: We’re talking about it every day. The thing for everyone to remember is everything’s going to look different. I’m going to be the last one to use the word canceled. I understand why things are getting postponed.

Prom is a big question mark, right now. If we were able to pull off prom, it would look radically different. And I’m not in a hurry to commit to anything just yet because I want to see how the next few days and few weeks go, what they look like, and that’s really the honest truth. 

I know some people are being very faithful to staying at home, and I know others are planning to go to Mexico and go to Europe and go to Colorado. I want to wait and see how that plays out. 

Boy: Black History Month is a great time to celebrate achievements made by the Black community. How is the Jesuit administration making time for conversation and celebration during this month? How is Jesuit encouraging these conversations outside of this month?

Garrison: Well, if you have noticed, we’ve had some prayers over the last couple of weeks. I know that our prayer service coming up. There’s going to be a series of prayer services about friendships, and I don’t know if that will be overtly a theme, but I think that’s part of the thing we’re talking about: relationships with each other. A question: What is your thought on there being a special month for any group? 

Boy: From a non-black perspective, I think it’s a good start, but that said, it also has a downside in that a lot of people use it as an excuse. We’ll celebrate, we’ll talk about black history month on the first and then the rest of the month, we don’t really talk about it. And for the rest of the year, it’s not even a part of the conversation. So I think a lot of people–I think a lot of white people–can use it as a pat on the back to confirm “I’m not racist,” and there’s a danger in that, of course, because you, you lose a very necessary conversation that needs to occur. So the reason I bring up the question is that given our current social and political climate, I want the students to know how Jesuit is approaching that conversation. 

I feel like it’s the responsibility of people like myself that are in charge of publications at the school but as well as the administration of the school too to make environments where those conversations can happen, make them readily available, and encourage discourse.

Garrison: For a senior, I think it’d be probably a lot more apparent, and you’ll see things in your social justice and public policy that are not necessarily directed at any one group of society.

But I think the intent, instead, is to encourage you to ask questions and discuss them with each other. My hope is that the SJPP classes accomplish that. This is not only about race or only about socioeconomics, it has to be about everything that’s under justice under the topic of justice.

It’s kind of what you just said. I don’t want to take black history month off the shelf for one month and then put it back on the shelf in March. These conversations should be happening in your classrooms.

I’m sure you’ve noticed in your four years, we’re not a big “let’s have an assembly” school. I’ve never felt like just having an assembly solves anything. Oftentimes, I think that looks like checking a box. What we count on is that we’re providing space for you all to talk about stuff that’s hopefully topical.

Boy: Would you think students would benefit from an SJPP-type class all four years?

Garrison: Do you remember your freshman guidance? It’s the health class that meets. Sophomore guidance has something similar. It’s different from SJPP, but it is also addressing topical things for guys at those grade levels. The thing to remember when you come in as freshmen is that guys come in from so many different schools that there’s kind of a norming: what are the expectations in this new place where you are? And they may be different. We have guys who asked to go get a drink of water and it’s like, you don’t need to ask you to go, you know?

We’re dealing with that level of “I’m used to being told what to do and what to think.” And then you come in here and there’s some freedom. So you put them into the freshmen guidance and the freshman health class we tell you what questions we want you to ask and giving you some guidance on where you need to find the answers.

It’s not an SJPP class per se, but I’d say that they’re trying to accomplish some similar things. And as you get to the senior level, that’s what’s going on outside. So the short answer to your question is, I think it’d be great if that class were at all four levels, but the longer answer is I think there are some things that are different that are trying to accomplish some other ends.

Boy: In light of the increasingly tense political and social climate, how is Jesuit fostering unity and communication amongst students and faculty?

Garrison: Well, tomorrow the faculty is here for an in-service. We’ve had several of those throughout the year. Sometimes we use those days to address topics like that. Other days it’s more mundane, like grades, grade books, curriculum, and things like that. We’ve had two this year that were pointed at the topics of diversity and inclusion.

And if you remember, there were three prayer services earlier in the school year. Those prayer services that happened in the fall felt like they needed to happen then instead of waiting until February. I think that’s my frustration with saying, well, there’s this month that’s set aside for that thing.

Faculty are having conversations. It was interesting this year. We weren’t here on the inauguration day. I wonder what that would’ve looked like if we had. The plan had been to use the hallway TVs and all the students were here and they could go see it if they wanted to, or not. Would teachers have shown it in their classrooms? It would have been an opportunity for conversation. 

And you know, again, back to my answer about guest speaker day, that’s not a thing we really subscribed to. So I’m more inclined to say these are things that need to happen as you see things come across things in your classes that give you a reason to question. Or if you just have questions. My hope is that you guys feel comfortable talking to your teachers about them at the moment when you need to.

We’ve gotten into some things with mental health and we’re doing the hope squad right now. I don’t want that to be something you only do in the month of mental health awareness. Because there is a month for mental health awareness. Those conversations need to happen when they need to happen. Has that been your experience? 

Boy: Well you mentioned the three-part prayer service series on racism. We see the prayer service and then, it would be business as normal the rest of the day. I don’t see the benefit in that. Prayer services are great and they do a good job of introducing topics, but real learning and real change doesn’t happen until you’re able to sit down with someone who’s different than you and talk about your differences. 

And so that’s just why I wanted to see if there was going to be some sort of bigger push towards something like that. I know it can be kind of difficult because Jesuit isn’t overwhelmingly diverse, but I think it’s the administration’s responsibility to present the opportunity. And then of course, then it turns into the people who are given the opportunity to take it.

Garrison: This is not a good answer to your question, but it’s a start. Go back and look at the original design for Wednesdays. In the original design for Wednesdays, we’re on campus and there are class level meetings that happen on Wednesdays, along with prayer services. Prayer services were going to be moved to Wednesdays. And so we’re masses and on those days, classes might not happen on the mass days. Right now you guys go to all seven classes on a Wednesday. You do a liturgy here roughly once a month to do one every month. And so that’s one Wednesday out of the month that you do something different. 

The interesting thing for us as teachers is last spring we were getting ready to daydream about what we are going to do next year with those Wednesdays, and here we are. I hear what you’re saying. There’s a need to have pointed guided discussions and some of it needs to be freeform and some of it needs to be guided, but there’s also a difference in how that guided or freeform conversation looks with the ninth graders–nothing against ninth graders, but they’re different.

So that Wednesday thing is our first crack at trying to solve some of that. I wish we could have implemented that this year, but we’re not there right now. 

Boy: What advice would you like to give to students as we engage in conversations and debate?

Garrison: I got a couple of pieces of advice. I know you guys don’t use email that much, but you use other forms of social media. I may be out of touch when I say this, but I think conversations work better when they’re between people who are conversing instead of throwing out an opinion and then just seeing what happens.

That seems to be how politics has worked for the last several years. Something gets put out there that’s inflammatory or evocative and then everybody just spins out of control as they have to get their opinion out there. It’s not a conversation, I don’t think. But it seems to be a trap that people keep falling into.

And so I think you start small with people who are in front of you. I think that’s different from however many characters are in a tweet.

The second thing, and this is the more interesting piece I think for you, especially as you go off to college next year, is making the space for the conversation. I think when you get to college, you’ll be amazed at how much free time there is and shocked at how busy you are at the same time. Like you won’t have time to blink. But you’ll only be in class three hours a day.

So where does the time go? Well, it goes into the conversations. It goes into preparing for the conversations, really getting to the heart of what you believe, what you know, what you think, and what you realize you didn’t know enough about. So what I’m getting at is the advice I would give is: make space for the conversations.

It’s very easy to be distracted nowadays, and it’s easy to find reasons not to engage, but one of the things guys have told me about when they come back is people see them as leaders. I think–and I don’t know if it feels like this to you right now–there actually are opportunities to practice that here, like when you do a retreat or when we do a day of reflection or when you go to an SJPP class or, by taking theology for four years and there’s introspection in that that a lot of your peers will not have had when you go away.

And when you find yourself in this new place, what happens is you guys end up with a voice that you didn’t know that you have when you’re here. 

Boy: Any final thoughts?

Garrison:

A blessing and a curse of this place is that every one of us has the right to expect more out of it, and we should. The question that is an interesting one to ask is: what is the more we need to be pursuing and how does it fit into what everyone else needs?

You’ve heard the term Magis, right? Magis actually doesn’t mean more–at least that’s not how we’re supposed to interpret it. What we’re supposed to interpret it as when given the choice between two goods, you go with the better of the two. We’re going to put a lot of good things in front of you here, and then we need to figure out where to spend your energy. There’s always something else to be discovered, to be understood. I think it’s okay to expect more.

There’s a book that’s popular right now among educators called The Power of Moments. The theory says: you’re going to remember some lesson you learned, but at the moment– for example, the moment of George Floyd’s murder for this country–is something that we should remember because it’s visceral. It touches us. And because it’s personal, we all know somebody who is hurt by that. That’s a moment.

You know how to diagram a sentence. That’s a lesson. It’s something you may or may not ever need again, but you need the moment because that moment is going to shape the next time you encounter something like that.

When Botham Jean was killed in Dallas, Trayvon Martin, you know, these are moments that we all need to pay attention to. What’s going on? What’s the interior movement of your heart when that moment happens and you are supposed to feel? You’re supposed to feel different the next time the moment happens. If you don’t, it means it hasn’t touched you.

But man, there’s a lot of moments we gotta have. I am personally very sensitive to mental health in adolescence right now. I think you guys are well equipped to deal with mental health things, but I also know that you’ve never had to deal with anything quite like the last 10 months. So we’re watching y’all closely and trying to give you opportunities to help each other and help yourselves. 

But back to this idea about moments. The first thing we talked about when you came in and sat down was the schedule. Okay. So in that hour from eight to nine, when you normally would have been in class, what are you doing now? Are you eating breakfast? Are you talking to teachers or are you sleeping in? What’s happening for you, personally, in that hour?

Boy: Well, I get here at 7:45 am. I typically use that time to finish up an assignment, meet with a teacher, or honestly just hang out with friends before I go to class.

Garrison: So what are you doing in those moments when you’re hanging out with friends? 

Boy: I’m just enjoying their company. 

Garrison: That’s intentional. We really did spend over two years on this and we talked about everything. We counted the number of minutes you’re in class. We know to the minute how much time you had in the old schedule and how much time you have in the new schedule. And everything’s a trade-off. What we believe is that that moment that you have to hang out with your friends is valuable. So we were trying to create a space for it to happen.

Passing periods going from 5 to 10 minutes is intentional. I don’t know if you’re having lots of deep conversations in those 10 minutes, but it’s another question that the teacher can answer. It’s the conversation you and I had in the hall with Mrs. Richard the other day. That wouldn’t have happened in five minutes.

And that’s the conversation I’m having with the adults right now, for whatever it’s worth. We’re all pretty focused on how the heck do we get the old curriculum into the new schedule?

But a school is an institution, and it moves slower than an individual. And the beautiful thing for us is we’re one institution. We’re not an ISD, right. So we actually got the schedule changed a little faster than some places, but now we get to figure out what to do with it. I think the pandemic has made it a mess. So I don’t disagree with you at all. I mean, you either have the conversations in class or you make time outside of class. So that’s, that’s what we’re doing. 

Boy: I really appreciate it. This is great. Thank you so much for talking with me. 

Garrison: Yeah, absolutely. Have a nice rest of your afternoon.

The Roundup gives a big thank you to Mr. Garrison for speaking with me, Mrs. Hatzmann for organizing the interview, and the entire Jesuit Administration, Faculty, and Staff for the great work they do for us.

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