In today’s world, it is easier than ever to find oneself in an echo chamber. Social media allows for selective exposure to news events, public schools are becoming more segregated, and even SNL skits poke fun at the neighborhood “bubbles” we have created in finding like-minded people to live around us. This separation from “others” can lead to creation of stereotypes and polarization. Waynflete’s Dialogue Project has been a push back to this environment: bridging differences among individuals to find common ground. To learn and understand, not to persuade.
To build on an area with which many in our community have little direct contact, the Upper School recently hosted Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s Chief of Police, at an assembly. Policing in America has been in the spotlight nationally and this was an opportunity to bring the conversation closer home. The Chief’s motivation to come to Waynflete was to build bridges between law enforcement and communities they serve. The students’ interest in hosting the Chief was to learn more about the tensions nationally and locally between law enforcement and communities of color.
This highly anticipated panel-style interview led by Najma Abdullah ’18 and Josh Lodish ’17 based on questions submitted by the wider student body, did not disappoint. Chief Sauschuck was transparent and forthright, acknowledging problems, addressing concerns, and sharing successes he felt have taken place in his department. Josh and Najma showed how to carry out a meaningful dialogue: with courageous follow up questions on events surrounding summer incidents in Portland, with care to listen to Chief Sauschuck’s vision and perspective, and with curiosity to understand the inner workings of the Portland police department and its oversight. A video of the entire assembly is linked below.
Follow up conversations in advising lunch brought up questions and discussions on issues such as the biases we all carry, the role of the police versus the role of other parts of the justice system, Portland’s progressive nature in relation to the rest of the country, Portland’s police oversight committee, media portrayal of the police, and feelings of a much needed diversification of the police department. The assembly sparked deep and unfinished lunchtime conversations stopped, as one advisor said “by the clock, not by lack of interest.”
One sentiment carried over from many advising conversations was to have the Chief come back and continue the conversations started during the assembly. In fact, we are already in conversation with the Chief about attending the New England Youth Identity Summit, a gathering of youth and educators from throughout Portland, Maine, and New England. Held for the first time last March and co-sponsored by Maine Seeds of Peace, the Summit is central to Waynflete’s effort to become a catalyst for important conversations in the broader community intended to bridge differences and promote mutual understanding.