Student Opinions on the Fishbowl

Hayden Wiltshire ‘24

As a participant in Wednesday’s Fishbowl, my thoughts on the activity are pretty conflicted. While I had fun participating, I’m unsure of the Fishbowl’s purpose and effectiveness. The activity had a lot of in-depth questions that were cool to think about and discuss, but only eight people could participate, which didn’t allow for a variety of opinions or much discourse. The Fishbowl wasn’t meant to be debate-like, though I believe a little disagreement would’ve been more interesting to watch for students. 

 I did some asking around and found that my classmates attended the fishbowl because it was mandatory, they wanted to support someone, or they were genuinely interested. Many students said that they wanted to participate in some of the questions, but were disappointed to find out that all they could do was listen. Consequently, some tuned the Fishbowl out and ended up doing something else during the webinar. 

Overall, the Fishbowl was a great conversation starter that leaves the Upper School at a crossroads: we can continue to have important conversations and work for change or we could just let it be another activity. In other words, the student body’s response to the Fishbowl could be a hit or a miss: I think that if we continue the dialogue, we will help to get rid of the uncomfortability around discussing these topics.

Izzy Ebede ‘21

About a week ago, Gabby Witkin asked me if I would participate in Wednesday’s Fishbowl. I respectfully declined because I knew I would have a lot of school work this week and I also felt wary talking about coronavirus and systemic racism in front of the entire student body. 

I take issue with the way the Fishbowl was conducted. Unlike Thursday’s activity, which may have featured too many unrelated topics, the Black Student Union conducted a fishbowl two years ago that succeeded because it focused on a very specific topic: the Black experience at FSS. While I understand the intention of the Fishbowl, I do not think that listening to eight students discuss their experience helped anyone else in the FSS community expand their perspectives on coronavirus and some aspects of systemic racism. Instead, the most effective way to get students involved with diversity work and conversations surrounding systemic racism at school is to promote diversity clerks and active participation during Social Justice Week and DICE. 

Peter Ryan ‘21

Although Wednesday’s Fishbowl activity was well-intentioned, it failed to offer community members any meaningful new perspectives. Participating students openly and eloquently shared their perspectives on distance learning, the election, and systemic racism, but the strangely formal atmosphere in the Fishbowl prevented students from engaging in truly open dialogue. The Fishbowl was a disappointing instance of over-involvement from Friends Select’s administration and guidance team. If teachers want to know how students are truly feeling about complex issues, they should just ask us in smaller settings where we don’t feel pressure to give specific popular responses. We don’t need a mandatory and depersonalized viewing session to achieve productive and empathetic discourse: we just need to talk as advisories and smaller groups.

Effective mental health programming directed by the administration and guidance team is virtually impossible. The last thing struggling teenagers need is mandatory events and multiple adults observing their behavior and class performance. Instead, the school should step back and encourage Student Government’s upcoming Student Support Team, which will give students what they actually need: a space to simply feel heard without fear of judgement or immediate action, unless it is specifically requested. This project, devised and designed by Sofia Solari-Parravicini ‘22 and Rosie Taranta ‘22, will be unrolled in the next month. Once all details are specified, the school administration should take a hands-off approach and let Student Government test a less intimidating approach to student support.

Rosie Taranta ‘23

Wednesday’s Fishbowl was well-intentioned but poorly executed on the part of the school administration and guidance team. Although the activity was designed to help teachers understand how the student body feels about very important issues, only eight students participated, answering relatively basic questions. If we had done this by advisory, more voices would have been heard. Additionally, the Fishbowl took place during the entire Upper School’s lunch period as a mandatory activity, interrupting other clubs and students’ free time. These questions not only appeared excessively familiar to students, but also excluded many important topics such as gender, sexuality, mental health, and other related topics. While the fishbowl activity occurred for the right reasons, changes must be made for future versions. That being said, all the students in the Fishbowl did a phenomenal job.

Jakob Miller ‘23

Wednesday’s Upper School Fishbowl was a great opportunity for students to hear unique opinions from students across all grades, but one major problem undermined the entire event: all of the students’ opinions were the same. This outcome was somewhat predictable, as all three Fishbowl conversation topics have been discussed regularly over the past few months, both in and out of school. The first topic, “Learning During a Pandemic,” was completely ineffective. In virtually every class, students have voiced their points of view on the alternative way of learning through surveys and classroom conversations. This topic poorly echoed messages every student has heard over the past two months, accomplishing nothing. The next topic, “The Election,” was also unproductive. While it is great that all nine panelists shared the same opinion, their concurrence failed to produce any meaningful discussion. I am fairly confident that almost every Upper School student has the same opinion about the approaching election, and so although the subject is essential, it didn’t go anywhere.

The last Fishbowl topic was “Racial Injustice and Systemic Racism.” This topic was the best of the three, as students showed strong opinions and communicated their points clearly. Although every panelist agreed on the key points, some pointedly made their mark through observant and unique statements. However, this conversation was just another subject including repeated points from months prior. While this topic is hugely important, many students admitted they drifted off during the discussion. This was not because students didn’t care about the topic, but instead because they have heard opinions similar to the panelists’ for months. The Fishbowl’s fatal flaw was not the panelists – in fact, the panelists were excellent. The problem was the topics. The Fishbowl has the potential to be a great space for the community to participate in meaningful discourse, but the topics must invite distinct opinions instead of repetitive talking points.