the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Carolyn Cheng '24 and Tarapi Pyo '24
Image Credit: Seshu Photography
Mrs. Urner-Berry graduated from Westminster as Class of 1981, only 10 years after coeducation was first introduced on Williams Hill. She came back in 1985 to teach for four years, and then she taught at an all-girls day school before returning again. She is currently the longest-serving alumni on the faculty. She teaches chemistry and math and coaches the girls’ cross country team. She is an inspiration to all and a significant role model to us Martlets.
Can you tell us about your experience at Westminster regarding coeducation?
I came in the fall of 1979 as a Fifth Form day student. I knew that Westminster used to be a boys' school because at some point I had a relative who was here, but I had no knowledge of how recently it had gone coed. And, when I got here, I didn't notice that boys and girls were treated differently. I was very aware that all of the girls were at the top of the class in terms of their GPA, so I sort of assumed that was normal. I remember at graduation when I won the math award, and a parent came over and was like “Wow, you won the math award and you’re a girl.” A year or two later, my mother told me she was so angry. Of course I'm a girl, that's obvious. I had not grown up with any expectation in the classroom that girls weren’t the equals of boys, so in terms of coeducation that way, I think Westminster probably brought everybody up to speed and made everybody equal pretty quickly.
What were some difficulties you faced being a woman in STEM, especially at Westminster?
I felt very fairly treated as a STEM girl. It wasn't until years later when I learned girls were expected to be more humanities-oriented. That was the stereotype and I had no idea. I did not have any difficulties really. I would say more after I learned there were these stereotypes and I heard that girls were treated differently. My assumption was that girls were stronger in math and science than boys. I realized I had to be more aware if I was treating anybody differently. I have the same expectation for everybody I teach — it doesn't matter if you're a girl or boy. If this is what you're interested in, that is what I'm trying to help you move forward with.
What was your experience as a female athlete at Westminster?
I hadn't really done a whole lot of athletics before I came here because I had terrible asthma. So, when I came here, I did field hockey. I definitely can look back and say the teams were very new in building because they weren't really successful. Somebody like me without a lot of experience could make the JV team. I had another friend who was brand new to soccer, and she made varsity. I did swimming and that was fine. I then did track and field. Then I tried out for the tennis team. There was probably only one tennis team and I got cut. By default, I went to track. I ran some low hurdles. I ran the 110-yard low hurdles. I hold the school record in the 110 low hurdles that will never be broken because, the next year, everybody went to meters. My yard record will stand forever. We had some very strong girls come through — very good athletes that started to come through in the early 80s — really good athletes. I just remember admiring the stronger athletes who came after me.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of coeducation?
I came here in 1985 to teach, and I was here for four years. I did work at an all-girls school for two years which I really loved, and I didn’t see any differences in the classroom. I had strong girl students and weak girl students. I coached field hockey, and I had strong athletes and weaker athletes. As a teacher, you work with what you have in front of you. I think there are lots of advantages to coeducation, just the normal daily male-female interaction, particularly the young males seeing female teachers who are able to have a family and raise children (as well as young men — it goes all ways). I think my students all had a great experience and it [coeducation] is more of a personal decision. There’s pros and cons — pros being normal societal interaction, but there are cons as well. Do people put you down for being a woman? Do people objectify you? You learn to deal with that. You see egos that are men; you see egos that are women. The more I reflect on it, the more I think everyone is the same. You have the same kind of person who can be either a male or a female. I don’t know why society continues to even propagate the myth that there is a huge difference between men and women. People are people, and every single person is an individual bringing lots of different things.
What can Westminster improve on moving forward?
I think it’s hard. They’re fighting the battle of getting good teachers, good coaches — women in their prime years who have the energy and time, putting in all that to be a mentor to different girls. It’s hard to have women who do it all. I very much tried to be a role model by staying teaching while my girls were young. I was sort of part-time in the sense that I taught three classes, and I did weekend duty, but I didn’t coach for several years. I had to ratchet it back because it’s so busy here trying to do everything; but I wanted to be a role model. Don’t assume you need to choose between being a mother and having a career. I think Westminster needs to keep looking for and going out and hiring women who can be coaches and be in the classrooms and the dorms. One of the things I’m the most proud of is having stayed here for as long as I have: I’m the oldest alumni on the faculty right now. It’s keeping and retaining women for long periods that I think is tricky, and you have to work on it. You have to give and take through the years to make things work for them or their families. You can do the same thing for men.
By Francesca Carnovale '24
This is a reprint of Francesca Carnovale’s essay, read at the Nov. 5 Friday Nights at Westminster featuring Jennifer Haigh. The essay won the 50 Years of Coeducation essay contest sponsored by the English department.
Obviously. It was the first word that came to my mind when I heard it was the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Westminster School. Obviously women have the right to the same education as men. Many women before me have paved the path for me to attend school, and I am very thankful to both those women and men for giving me equal opportunities. But on the day Mrs. White, Westminster’s first female head of school, announced at assembly that the blue and gold flags placed with pride all around campus were for the 50th anniversary of coeducation, I was both proud and irritated.
Obviously, I understand how that may seem very backwards. It makes sense to me to acknowledge the celebration of 50 years of women at Westminster, but I don’t think we should force this topic into the curriculum, often when it just doesn’t fit. As I had gone through the first couple of weeks in school, I noticed how often women or coeducation slithered its way into the conversation like a snake slowly surrounding its prey. It squeezed us tighter until we were suffocating, but we had to comply for fear of its socially lethal venom. The conversation was uncomfortable, even for the profound young women in the class, because they knew it was only being brought up by teachers who were told to bring women into the conversation for this one year. It was times like these where I began to wonder if the reason three out of the four candidates for the head of school were women. I remember kids talking about how the only reason the school was looking for a female head was because of the 50th anniversary. Though it may have been a factor, I do not believe that is true. I respect Mrs. White for her courage to become Westminster’s first female head, and I believe she is extremely qualified to do her job. The fact that people could even think that because she is a woman her bar is somehow lower makes me disappointed in Westminster for undermining all the work women put into having their voices heard. Mrs. White has a very tough job, and I would like to commemorate her for her strength to bring a new and positive outlook to life on the hill.
Obviously, part of the student body felt that there was a slight political factor hidden behind those blue and gold flags. They are like a little campaign for all the tours that visit campus. I would prefer we have one chapel talk, or one assembly, or even a guest speaker on coeducation, than all of this advertising, plus continuously interjecting the topic into our classes. Teachers who felt the same way as I do told the class upfront that the curriculum this year was geared towards the topic of coeducation. As thrilled as I am that women are being represented in what the student body is learning, how it is being presented feels overdone and forced. In a history or English class that is discussing a time period in which women did not have rights, it is an overcompensation to say that the men of that time should be deemed misogynistic. They were not misogynistic, that was just the time period in which most of society was sexist and racist. When we read in class a piece of literature by a male author who uses the pronouns “he,” when he refers to human existence as a whole, we do not need to outwardly condemn him for that. We do not say Neil Armstrong must hate women because he said, “this is one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.” To the country as a whole, and particularly American private schools, why do we try to protect our children from the possibility of being offended, by teaching them to be overly sensitive, and shutting down conversations we do not wish to listen to?
There were times when I sat in a Latin class where we had to make the argument that the Romans were just slightly less misogynistic than the Greeks, when obviously both civilizations gave women almost zero rights. It wasn’t until I listened to Mrs. White’s talk on the 50th year of coeducation, and how Westminster was a safe space for women, that I really thought about why we should be celebrating. My first thought went to SWE, Society of Women Engineers, and all women in STEM. While schools in many countries have done a wonderful job at giving women equal opportunities, they have failed to keep young girls interested in math and science. As a kid, most of my female friends were told that math and science were boy things, along with the color blue, legos and cars. I was a different case. I knew the order of the planets before the alphabet, and my father always told me, “math and science were the most important subjects.” I loved to build and I was a full-on engineer when it came to legos. Now I have doubled up on sciences since sophomore year taking both Honors Chemistry and AP Physics 2, and I am pursuing aerospace engineering and astrophysics. I look at my path and think how we don’t need SWE because we need a safe space for women, we need SWE to promote women in STEM, because girls are so often discouraged by math and science at a young age.
While school work and classes had brought up this topic, they were obviously not the only places on campus where the theme of feminism lingered in the back of students' minds. At the start of the year, the W-Book no longer separated the dress code into sections for boys and girls. Westminster had started to accommodate non-binary students and realized how overemphasized the gendered dress code had been in the past. This was a huge step towards undoing a longstanding and outdated tradition that does not reflect the wants and needs of the student population. But as with most socially ineffable topics, especially one so deeply woven into society such as gender, one step forward usually results in two steps back. A few weeks into school Westminster saw how some people were taking advantage of this new dress code and decided to not only revert back to the old way of thinking, but to conduct not one, but two meetings to discuss this topic. These meetings were sectioned into boys and girls, forcing non-binary kids to come out to their teachers. This was not only uncomfortable for them but for the groups that attended the meetings as well. In the girls' meeting, actual topics of confusion were brought up such as why we can wear leggings under skirts but not without them, or why our shoulders are seen as a ‘distraction.’ Instead of addressing these questions, teachers chose to focus on the second layer rule. In this meeting I brought up the question, “if this is a one-gendered dress code, why are there two meetings?” Later that day, a freshman I have never met came up to me and thanked me for asking that. Even though this question still goes unanswered, I feel better knowing that this is a topic Westminster students are passionate about. I don’t really care if this is fixed before I graduate, but I want it to be fixed before the current freshmen do. Westminster is learning that it is going to be much harder to grab the snake by the head without being bit, then leave it there long enough to asphyxiate you. But it's the only option, so the best thing to do is be prepared. Make an antidote, and just go for it, because this problem is not going anywhere.
The last portion of feminism that needs to be addressed is the stigma around being called a feminist, and what the actual definition of feminism means. When I say, I am a feminist, I do not mean, I hate men. I simply mean I believe in the equality of all people. When some boys are asked the question, ‘are you a feminist’ they respond with ‘no,’ but if you ask if they believe in the equality of men and women, they say, ‘oh well, of course, yes.’ That’s a problem. Because of social media, extremist groups have started campaigns such as the ‘kill all men movement,’ which are unacceptable, and actually go against the beliefs of feminism. These groups preach the eradication of men as if reversing oppression is going to somehow cancel it out. This is not what feminism means, but because of this view, many male students and faculty feel it is not their place to speak out about the topic for fear of being attacked or ruining their reputation. These groups corrupt the name of feminism by eroding its values of equality. Pseudo-feminists believe in slandering men and putting them down to get a leg up, when real feminists believe in women pulling themselves up to the same level as men through their own work ethic. As a woman, I don't want the job because it looks good for your diversity statistics or because you’re afraid of being accused of hating women if you don’t give me the job. I want the job because I am qualified for it. Being handed a job by a man is almost worse than him fighting to keep me out of it, because if he fights for it at least I know he views me as competition, someone on the same level. Men shouldn’t feel as if they don’t have the right to vocalize their views on feminism. Equality means everyone, so we should listen to everyone.
This is obviously not a very easy task, but big changes start with small steps. I hope that on the 100th year anniversary we do not insert women into the conversation by over advertising for that one year, but to acknowledge the progress and changes we have made. To my understanding, it was common sense that we would not need a celebration of coeducation if the right of educating women was a standard. Obviously not.
By Cassie Goundrey '24
This is a reprint of Cassie Goundrey’s essay, read Nov. 5 at Friday Nights at Westminster featuring Jennifer Haigh. The essay won the 50 Years of Coeducation contest sponsored by the English department.
Westminster School was founded in 1888, and coeducation began in 1971. Celebrating 50 years of coeducation this year is a huge milestone. However, the impact of 83 years of single-sex education does not immediately disappear. In fact, today, women of Westminster still face challenges and setbacks in athletics.
Westminster’s de facto rival is Avon Old Farms, and rivalry games are always competitive and nerve-racking, which makes them that much more exciting to play. Except I wouldn’t know what it’s like to play a game against Avon Old Farms, because they are an all-boys school and I am a girl.
Meaning half of the athletes of Westminster never play our rivals. The female athletes at Westminster do not get to experience the same excitement and hype from the community when there’s a challenging game.
I’ve heard that the girls’ equivalent rival is Loomis Chaffee. This is great, except for the fact that Loomis has their own rival, and it’s not Westminster. So the rivalry isn’t mutual. It feels like a secondary thought that was thrown out to accommodate female athletes.
No one sees a problem with Old Farms being our de facto rivals, but I can’t help feeling like it’s a little unfair.
Fifty years later, and really nothing has changed?
Of course, tradition should be respected, so why change it?
Why erase decades of competition against Old Farms? After all, female athletes have competitive games against Loomis, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, varsity girls' field hockey had a night game against Loomis. In the big game under the lights against our “rivals,” the stakes were high, and I was so happy to have my friends come to support me in this fun, gritty game. It was exhilarating to think about all the people that would be at the game watching.
Except at 6 p.m. the bus to Six Flags Fright Fest left campus.
Our game started at 6 p.m.
If varsity boys' ice hockey or lacrosse was playing a night game against Old Farms, would the school send a bus to Six Flags at the time of the start?
I doubt it.
I really hope that the bus leaving at the same time as our game was a coincidence.
However, varsity boys' soccer had had a night game against Pomfret the week before. Their game was hyped up at announcements two weeks before it even happened, and it was a “blackout.” Mobs of Westy students were there to cheer on their classmates — there was even an ice cream truck! The energy was high, and it was a great game, a game that everyone was talking about.
When I asked my classmates if they were going to my game, many didn’t know that varsity field hockey had a night game on Saturday; they said,
“Sorry, I’m going to Fright Fest.”
What’s also annoying is that I wanted to go to Fright Fest as well. A number of my teammates also had planned to go, until the date of the trip was announced. Then the realization dawned on us all that,
There was definitely a noticeable difference in size of the crowds at the varsity boys' soccer game and varsity girls' field hockey game. But I do want to thank everyone who did come to our game; you might not have known it, but it meant a lot to my teammates and me.
This example shows maybe tradition doesn’t need to be respected. That maybe treating female athletes equally should be a priority instead of trying to accommodate female athletes. Which starts by changing our rivals.
One thing that will remain constant in life is change. Change is inevitable and necessary, especially in the modern world we live in. There is a time and a place for honoring tradition, but female athletes at Westminster deserve the same support as the male athletes, and by breaking down the foundation of sexism in our athletics, I believe we can make this come true.
By Keegan Bankoff ‘22 and Ben Mihailovich ‘22
All I want for Christmas is … not to hear Christmas music too early. With the festive season hurtling towards us like a precisely-aimed snowball, one crucial question lingers — how early is too early to listen to Christmas music?
As Thanksgiving approaches, we have hit the beginning of the annual chart spike for Mariah Carey’s hit, "All I Want for Christmas is You." Too often, Thanksgiving is passed over in favor of Christmas because people consider it a more enjoyable holiday. Before a water polo practice one afternoon, I was speaking with Mr. Kendall, and the topic of Christmas music was raised. I was surprised (well, not really) to hear that he was threatening to hand out reports for any Mariah Carey and other festive music that found his ears before Thanksgiving break. I have heard of numerous occasions where this happened; hopefully, the guilty have avoided the lurking PK attempting to catch their jolly music like The Grinch snatching presents from under the tree.
About a week ago, we sent out a poll asking the community to choose the date they believed was appropriate to hit play on the Christmas playlist. Given the dates Nov. 1, Black Friday and Dec. 1 (plus others, which I will get to in a minute), a clear majority was prominent. Over 40% of the almost 200 respondents said Black Friday was the acceptable date, with another 30% agreeing that any time after Thanksgiving was okay. We received many reasonable and funny responses in the ‘other’ category, like “the best time to listen to Christmas music is immediately after u have mowed a fat thanksgiving plate and laying down on the couch watching some football,” and “most stores at this point are already into Christmas mode so the music is sure to follow. Many of the Christmas channels on SiriusXM are also out. Personally, I feel it is a little too early. Halloween is barely in the rear view mirror!” We also received some interesting responses, per se: “all day every day,” and “December 25 only.” Clearly, the extremists were well represented in the other section.
I understand that Christmas music is an issue so divisive and anger-inducing that we risk being bombarded by those who disagree with our opinions just by simply expressing them. That is why we chose to write about this personal and sometimes sensitive topic. In all honesty, when we think of Christmas music, just a handful of songs come to mind. Furthermore, many of these are renditions of the same few songs by a bazillion different artists. This over-playing starts to deter the spirit of the holiday and make it less joyful. Personally, I don’t think Christmas music begins on a set date. A time that many overlook is the first snowfall. In New England, this typically comes around the beginning of December as it does not usually hit freezing temperatures until that time. To me, snow indicates a cozy, warm holiday season and feels like the most natural way to start listening to Christmas music. But, many are obsessed with having a set date as to when it is acceptable. Though we may disagree, we are always open to listening to any thoughts on when you believe it right to begin jamming to holiday music.
By Elle Dorrian '22 and Jamai Miller '22
Microtrends. They are evil. Not only is it impossible to keep up with the rotating door of what is trendy and what is not, but it breaks the bank and destroys the environment. Pieces that were only stylish for a month end up in landfills and thrift stores across the country. Think of how quickly the Kendall Jenner House of Sunny dress or patchwork jeans came into style, and then think about how quickly they went out. It is so much more affordable, rewarding and environmentally conscious to learn to develop your own sense of style rather than following the herd of trends.
Obsessive overconsumption is a disease tainting our generation’s individuality and killing creativity. But how does it work? Consider this scenario: you see the perfect brown top on reformation; it’s so classic, simple and has potential for several outfits; but it’s $70. Annoyed, you try your luck with Shein (yes, expect Shein slander) and unsurprisingly you find five trendy-looking shirts, each with a funky design, interesting enough to look at, and they all total to $60. Which do you choose — the timeless piece at Reformation, or more value for your buck at Shein for a higher quantity for virtually the same price? For much of our generation, Shein is the obvious choice, because when aren’t we “ballin on a budget”? But the problem with this is that it has become a toxic cycle: purchasing cheap clothes, low quality clothes, to fill our closets so that we can follow trends; never wear the same thing twice, and, most importantly, giving off the facade of being “fashionable.”
Have you ever stared at your closet, overflowing with the past three trend cycles and thought, “I literally have nothing to wear.”? You can’t wear the checkered vans, the urban outfitters bucket hat, nor the (should be) Instagram worthy patchwork jeans. Your closet is filled with trendy pieces which may have been exciting and somewhat promising to buy, but literally don't go with anything, nor do they accurately represent you. You can't put together an outfit because your closet is a circus of every fashion cycle on TikTok. To avoid this nightmare of unnecessary over-consumption, when purchasing a new piece, think of how many outfits you can make with it. Try to stray from buying a full outfit that only matches with itself. Creating a wardrobe of classic basics with a few seasonally rotating statement pieces is the key to being able to throw together a cute outfit in seconds. Layering is HUGE in taking basics and making them stand out. A white sweater vest and black button-up seem so simple on their own, but layer the sweater vest over and take a cute mini skirt and a pair of high-rise boots, and boom, you instantly look chic. It might not be “trendy” but it is not going to be out of style. Of course, purchasing trendy pieces is fun and exciting, but when you realize your entire closet is only trendy pieces that hardly match with each other, you hit that crisis of “I have nothing to wear” causing you to go online and purchase a ton more.
But how do you have a personal style? You do not need to over-consume fashion that will soon be out of trend and infiltrate the thrift stores. Here’s one thing that everyone, and we mean EVERYONE should know: it is virtually impossible to keep up with trend cycles, and so, being “trendy,” an identity that’s already hard to take seriously, is also hardly feasible. And so, it’s better to tune into yourself, look past what’s trendy and ask yourself what you like. This way, over time, you develop your own style that's true and unique to you, with a wide array of influences. How? Scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram and looking at influencers and outfits that fit your “vibe” and taking inspiration is a great starting point. Try to purchase timeless pieces that could fit into an array of different styles. You want to find pieces that will evolve with you and your changing preference. Personal preference changes, but a high-quality pair of jeans will always be a part of that wardrobe. Wearing what you like and makes you comfortable and confident is essential. It is much more impressive to be able to put together an amazing outfit of stuff that is not necessarily trending than to follow the trends like a rulebook. There are no rules in fashion, except one, and it’s the most important thing about creating your “look” — remember, you wear the clothes, they do not wear you. Confidence transcends trends and clothes. With confidence, you can rock any style, clothes or even trend, because you are comfortable with the “you” at your core, a fact that comes across to everyone in the room.
By Alice Tao ‘24
Images Credit: Seshu Photography
How do you feel about bringing back the play after two years?
Mr. Rasheed: I am so happy that theatre, in general, is opening up. There are many productions that are back in play in New York and regionally. I was able to get to NYC myself over the long weekend. That being said, I am very excited to open our doors again in the Werner Centennial Center. It was nice to see people in the audience during the parents weekend concert. It’s going to be very exciting to see people back in the space to watch theatre again.
Why did you choose “Noises Off” over other plays?
Mr. Rasheed: "Noises Off" was my third choice I believe. In two plays that I wanted to do, the rights were not available, so "Noises Off" became the default. It’s a fun play; it’s very physical and funny. I wanted to do a fun play and not anything heavy. The last play that we had in the theatre when we were open was a heavy play, so I wanted to do something light and fun for our audience and also for students participating.
What is the most challenging part of bringing this play to life?
Mr. Rasheed: One of the most difficult things was the lines. There are a lot of lines, and the cues were hard for some. Many of the words are responses like “Oh,” “Alright,” “Sure” and you don’t know when to say those or how to respond sometimes without something concrete to lead you into the next phase of the conversation. So, getting a flow of memorizing the lines and being able to play them was one of the most difficult things. Also, it’s a very physical show! There is a lot of running around. I should have taken the actors out for 15-20 minutes of laps before getting them ready for the physicality that’s up there, but they are handling it well. They are running up and down stairs, running in and out of doors. It looks like a lot of fun, but it’s a workout.
Can you talk a little bit about the rehearsal process?
Mr. Rasheed: This is really an ensemble play. I’m usually able to split the time with actors, like I’ll see one person for 30 minutes and I’ll see someone else for 30 minutes, etc. But with this one, it’s all hands on deck. Everyone was pretty much called all the time. We broke that up with different schedules. Sometimes we wouldn’t go the whole afternoon; sometimes we would rehearse a little in the afternoon and a little in the evening. We go about 10-15 pages per rehearsal session. The expectation is that after we’ve blocked that 10-15 pages, actors would memorize what we worked on. The faster they memorize, the easier it is to fill the role and all of the other business for the character. So I rehearse things in chunks.
How do you want this play to be perceived by the community?
Mr. Rasheed: I want people to have a good time. It’s been a tough two years, and I want people to be able to come into the theatre and just relax and enjoy the work that our technical team has done — they built a fantastic set and provided great lighting, and live mic mixing. I love my stage management team. The actors are just having a good time up there. And when they are having a good time, I think everyone that comes in will be able to relax and have a good time, too. Take a little under two hours out of your life, sit down to enjoy this production.