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The Power of Community

1150506_592089814162840_1361524413_oHello world! My name is Intern Natalie and this is my first real blog post. My tasks at the Solcana crossfit include, but are not limited to, sweeping, mopping, planning, painting murals, and designing Solcana merch. I just graduated from the Perpich Arts High School and will be attending The School of the Art Institute of Chicago next fall. It has basically been my primary goal in life to become an artist since I figured out how to use a crayon, but I didn’t realize that this goal was something I could actually accomplish until I started going to Perpich.

I must give credit to the teachers and curriculum for preparing me for the treachery that is the art world, but that is not the only aspect of Perpich that is worth mentioning. The student body is the school’s most valuable asset. This particular community is different in a few key ways. This first thing I noticed about the Perpich population is that it is about ninety five percent girls. Almost all of the males in the school are in the music department.

The second main difference is that everyone who goes to perpich is there because they want to be there. Every student has this in common because you have to audition to get in. Once you get over the initial culture shock, you start to become a part of the conversation.

The predominantly female population creates an environment where girls are united and encouraged to talk about sex and gender. In my experience, this dialogue has extended beyond the classroom. It is the first school I have been to where feminism is cool. This is such a popular topic at Perpich nowadays that it has basically become a part of the fashion. The patriarchy, and the dismantling of it, often comes up in conversation at parties.

This aspect of the Perpich community has had a very positive impact on my life. It has changed the way I think about my identity as a girl, artist, and friend. It has even influenced how I get dressed in the morning. Being in such an empowering environment helped me find what was really important to me.

Being fully accepted and respected by your peers is a foreign concept to many high school students. I remember feeling like the social climate at my former high school was a distracting and intimidating. There was an underlying sense of competition and hostility and resentment for the school itself that made it hard to remember that I was there to learn and grow. Not having to worry about competition between girls made it easier to actually focus on honing my craft and building community.

Perpich girls enjoy rare luxuries that are often stigmatized and surrounded by awkward silence in mainstream teen culture. There is a lack of commentary on other peoples bras and body hair or lack there of. “Slut” is not a word you hear very often at Perpich. People actually acknowledge that virginity is a social construct. Making an announcement that you need a tampon in the computer lab is just a part of routine. If you try to spread a rumor about someone’s sex life at Perpich, you will be met with either judgment, or just apathy. The absence of a clearly defined dress code allows people to see their bodies as just another means of personal expression, and not a battle ground for the school administration. I have not once been punished by perpich faculty for the length of my shorts (I love my shorts. I made them myself).

1655642_10203380010890793_1282127505_oThe small but mighty male population at Perpich benefits from the absence of expectations too. Males are relieved of the pressure to be “men” in the conventional sense. It is possible for boys and girls to really be friends because people don’t see each other as accessories or status symbols. Boys don’t actually have a choice but to develop real friendships with the girls around them because they are simply outnumbered. Assumptions aren’t made about their sexual orientations because of their dress or behavior. “Pussy” and “faggot” are not words you will hear very often either, unless people are trying to be ironic.

I am forever grateful to perpich for how it has changed me and pushed me forward, but it disappoints me that I didn’t even know communities like it existed until I started going there. There are many things about high school and the public school system in general that don’t make any sense, but I think the entire system would flow better if the whole social structure of your typical high school wasn’t in itself a mini-patriarchy. The way I see it, high school is like a little introduction to adult life. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “high school never ends.” I think the most useful information I learned in high school has nothing to do with algebra or Shakespeare. I learned about networking and time management and what my skills are. The social climate at Perpich didn’t distract me or limit me from finding my voice as an artist. I think I would be a completely different person had I gone to normal school.

Some girls leave high school having learned that they shouldn’t be too ambitious or bossy, because that threatens their male counterparts. They learn to value their physical appearance and social ranking above the health of their internal landscape and having meaningful relationships with their peers. If feminism was cool in conventional schools, students would spend more energy on self discovery and less energy on maintaining a false self in order to avoid scrutiny. Students would focus more on what they were actually supposed to be learning in a given class and less on the social hierarchy within the classroom. A healthier social environment, in my experience, cultivates happier and more serious students because the students trust their teachers and peers.

 

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