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A more global narrative

October 6, 2023 at 4:00:00 PM

Yiting Sun '25

Mercersburg Academy has a very diverse student body. Our students hail from dozens of nations, and they therefore have an insider’s perspective on their native culture, one inherently different from Americans’. However, the climate on our campus is, in many students’ opinion, decidedly Americentric. This can be observed in both our classrooms and around our campus. 

The ideologies that many international students grew up with and are accustomed to are not always aligned with the predominant ideological standing on our campus. In our classes– especially history and other discussion-based courses that usually tell a narrative from an American perspective- many international students feel the need to repress their opinions for fear of becoming the “odd one out.” This can be attributed to the widespread Americanized, liberal, and sometimes uninform perspectives held by both teachers and students. 

For example, classroom discussions on foreign governments tend to be aggressively one-sided, often focusing on negative aspects of a nation without considering the diverse experiences and views of students, not to mention the long histories if those respective countries.

From my classroom experience, we are selective in what we let define a culture. In ASUSH, we can acknowledge America’s brutal history around slavery, the genocide of indigenous peoples, and imperialism, but we don’t let that define American culture. We instead maintain an open-minded (sometimes even exceptionalist) view of the country. However, from my experience in the classroom, students and teachers often offer uniformed arguments about how “terrible” or “backwards” other nations’ cultures and political and social views are. They let that define thier perspective towards that nation.

In my experience, Chinese students frequently hear joking remarks about communism  in the classroom from both teachers and students. Some even go so far as saying the CCP will “make you disappear” if a Chinese student discusses ideological differences or political issues. Students discussing their nation’s government or perspective aren’t necessarily superfans of the CCP or lovers of authoritarianism, but offering their perspectives as a member of the culture frequently results in a degrading and isolating response. 

As a community that pushes diversity and inclusion, a biased classroom setting can be detrimental for, say, a new student from China who is experiencing their first week in an American school and only hears remarks from both teachers and students about how repressive their homeland and government are. 

At Mercersburg, holding alternative views is not the issue. The problem is the lack of openness in the classroom for international students to voice differing opinions against a strong Americentric majority. Community members need to keep in mind the multitude of cultures and societies that make up our student body and not push students to conform to a single, “correct,” Westernized view.

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