Exploring Diversity with Panchali Chourdhary ’18

Panchali Choudhary ’18 discovered during her first year at Phillips ExeterAcademy that exploring diversity in all its forms offers opportunities to learn about yourself as well as others. Her efforts and growing understanding reflect and parallel the work that Pine Point’s faculty continues to undertake in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

Each summer, the faculty and staff read a book together and discuss what we’ve learned when we reconvene before the start of school. Head of School Diana Owen finds great books to spark our thinking, learning, and collaborating in ways that support and deliver on Pine Point’s mission. Recent selections have included Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen, and Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools by Ayelet Waldman, Katherine Ellison, and Tom Little.

This summer’s book, The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh, ties directly to our ongoing work with community, diversity, equity, and inclusion. From her earliest days as Head of School, Diana has emphasized the importance of building community and connections, writing in her first ViewPoints letter: “Our mission calls for problem-solving collaboratively, creatively and compassionately. In order to achieve our mission, we must honor each other and strive for inclusion. Having the opportunity to learn more about all of the members of our community, not just those at the School but those who make up the greater Pine Point family, will not only strengthen our relationships with each other, it will strengthen Pine Point School.”

To further illustrate Diana’s and the Pine Point commitment to ensuring the School reflects and engages its diverse community, Gillian Crawford was named Alice Lam Director of Equity and Inclusion. Gillian has fulfilled a pivotal role in helping us to establish a greater sense of community among all members of Pine Point. That sense of belonging, and feeling that one would be welcome at Pine Point long after student days were over were part of the reason that Andrew Lam ’02 and his father Harry Lam established an endowment fund to support the School’s work in diversity and inclusion in memory of the late Alice Lam, Harry’s wife and Andrew’s mother, to honor her feeling that no matter how long it had been between visits or where in the world their family might live, ‘Pine Point will always feel like home.’

As we endeavor to build the kind of community we want Pine Point to be, we also want to be aware of what stands in our way. In reading The Person You Mean to Be, we focused on becoming aware of the biases we each carry and the impacts that these biases have on others, and striving to be a better person as we engage with and learn from each other.

A casual conversation this summer with a visiting former student revealed that our alumni are also thinking about diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion. Panchali Choudhary ’18 attended Pine Point starting in 1st grade, and was involved in numerous activities. Recognized with the 2018 Head of School Prize for her ‘quiet efforts to make Pine Point a better school and a happier place,’ Panchali has continued to be engaged, now serving as Alumni Class Agent with classmate Jack Ryan ’18. Reflecting on her first year at Phillips Exeter Academy, Panchali discovered that diversity is an influential constant, and that exploring diversity offered her opportunities to learn more about herself as well as others.

(At Exeter), the cultural diversity builds upon and challenges students’ ideals and perceptions, promotes empathy, breaks down stereotypes while the educational diversity helps students have a deeper engagement with coursework of their own choosing.

The transition from Pine Point to Exeter was a strange one. It didn’t hit me that I was leaving a place which had been my home for nine years until the August before my first month of school in September 2018. I’m lucky that right off the bat, Exeter was a great fit: the discussion-based classes, large student body, and abundance of white boards appealed to me. I also had a great community in Hoyt Hall, my dorm, to bond with and rely on. My roommate and I became close friends, and the other Hoytians and I made great memories from our dorm meetings to watching cooking shows in the dorm faculty apartments.
Along with a dorm family, I met many students through classes and clubs. In my first year, I interacted with people from different states, countries, financial brackets, and religions. The impact of being a part of such diversity is unexpected. I have learned about different beliefs and experiences during Harkness discussions in English class and over meals in the dining halls. As well as learning about other people, Exeter’s diversity made me realize the effect being a person of color has on my life, and how I also have privilege, ways in which I am advantaged due to my ethnicity or skin color, that can be used to benefit others. I may have a higher pay or a better chance for a promotion, and my ideas and opinions will more likely be heard; I can use these advantages to advocate for those with greater racial burdens and help lift them up. Every moment, in and out of class, had become an opportunity to learn.

Beyond cultural diversity, Exeter provides diversity in its education. The options for classes seem infinite. You have everything from Latin, one of my favorite classes, to Bioethics to Existentialism. The possibilities are endless, and anyone can plan the perfect education for themselves. This educational diversity extends to a wide variety of off-campus offerings, and over my spring break, I was lucky enough to partake in an off-campus trip to India for two weeks that built upon what I learned in my Winter Term Modern India history course. When I traveled to India, my and my family’s country of origin, with a group of my peers, we visited different religious, cultural, and historical sites to understand the background and traditions of a very different country. Some of the cities we explored include New Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, and Kolkata, and we also got the opportunity to see and interact with different villages. My trip to India helped me examine a familiar country in a new way, something which I am extremely grateful for. Exeter’s educational opportunities are freeing, and I’m excited to use this freedom to learn so many things about myself and the world.

My first year at Exeter has been one of constant learning. I now know how to make a great panini, do my laundry, and pull an all-nighter, which I do not recommend, but my greatest takeaway is the importance of diversity. Every day I see the positive impact of cultural and educational diversity on me and my peers. The cultural diversity builds upon and challenges students’ ideals and perceptions, promotes empathy, breaks down stereotypes while the educational diversity helps students have a deeper engagement with coursework of their own choosing. That is why, to whoever is reading this, I ask you to look for, encourage, and take part in diversity of any kind in your life.

After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Panchali took a gap year to work and travel, and is now attending the University of Chicago.

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