America’s Political Divide Can Be Healed

by Anna Augart-Welwood

Opinion

January 27, 2021

There is no doubt that the United States is a divided country, and with each day, the divide grows larger. Political polarization is a prominent issue in America, and recent events such as the storming of the Capitol building on January 6 induce a feeling that the country is beyond repair. But President Joe Biden has provided many Americans with a new hope that America can be healed.

The political divide in America began to widen during the 1990s. In 1994, the average Republican was more conservative than 70% of Democrats; by 2014, this number increased to 94%. The average Democrat went from more liberal than 64% of Republicans to more liberal than 92% of Republicans in the same time frame. Extreme partisans have false perceptions of members of the other party. According to a study by the More in Common Foundation, Republicans believe that only half of Democrats are proud to be American, and Democrats believe that only half of Republicans recognize that racism still exists in America. In actuality, 80% of Republicans acknowledge the existence of racism in America, and 80% of Democrats say they are proud to be American. According to a study from 2019, 42% of voters of both parties view the other as “downright evil.” The same study discovered that approximately one in five Americans believe that their political opponents “lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.” Perhaps the most disturbing discovery of this study is that 20% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans think occasionally that the country would be better off if large numbers of the other party died. From these findings, there is no question that political polarization is tearing the country in half.

There are several explanations for the expanding divide in political views. A study by Carlee Beth Hawkins and Brian Nosek found that labeling policies as Democratic or Republican can influence support from the members of each party. Social media also plays a prominent role in political polarization. Social media algorithms are designed to show users content similar to content that they have previously “liked.” For example, if someone interacts with Democratic content on social media, they will be shown more Democratic content. This prevents social media users from seeing the perspective of the opposite party, increasing polarization. Additionally, news outlets have become increasingly partisan, and most people get information from outlets with the same views as themselves. And the political divide has widened during Donald Trump’s presidency because of his insensitivity towards Democratic customs. Trump consistently demonizes the Democratic Party, driving his supporters to view the Democrats as evil. Agreeing with this statement, Aster Gamarnik ‘23 says that “people no longer think about what’s best for the country, but [rather] blatantly accuse the other party, fill their ego on bigotry, and follow conspiracies that are fueled by this rage.” Aster believes that people are losing hope in America because “Americans no longer understand what this country stands for.” 

While political polarization may seem to be past the point of no return, there is still hope. A study by the More in Common Foundation discovered that over three-fourths of Americans support both stricter gun laws and citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Approximately the same amount of Americans agree that both parties can still come together despite their differences. Another glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel is Joe Biden’s presidency. Unlike Donald Trump, who has divided the country, Biden promotes a future of unity and bipartisanship. In his victory speech on November 7, he said, “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States…I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as [for] those who did.” Showing compassion for Trump’s upset supporters, he said, “Let’s give each other a chance.” Biden went on to ask that the “grim era of demonization in America” end now. In his inauguration speech on January 20, President Biden stated his belief that unity can lead the country to greatness. He said, “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new… unity is the path forward.” In the final sentences of his speech, the newly inaugurated president left listeners with a feeling of optimism, saying, “And together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.”

With this new hope in mind, we must take action to heal America’s political divide. A possible solution would be to establish an organization or service that allows people to have respectful and educational conversations with others who have different political views. This would allow partisans to see things from the perspective of the other party and possibly adopt less extreme views. More citizens’ assemblies could be held in which different groups discuss political and social issues, highlighting common ground that can be acted upon. Another possible solution would be to vote for policies, not parties. As previously mentioned, voters are more likely to support a policy put forth by their own party. But if policies were independent from parties, voters would be encouraged to support the policies that they believe in, which may not exactly agree with the ones that their party puts forth. Finally, research shows that people who have extreme views about certain political policies often don’t fully understand them. When asked to give an in-depth explanation of certain policies, extremists realized how little they understood of them and adopted less extreme views. Fully educating voters on policies can also help diminish the polarization.

There is no doubt that political polarization in America is worse than ever before. Some might even say that we are past the point of no return. Yet we don’t have any other choice but to try to fix this destructive issue; our democracy would be shattered otherwise. Keep in mind that there is still hope. After all, it’s not called the United States for nothing.


Avlon, John. “Polarization is poisoning America. Here’s an antidote.” CNN, November 1, 2019.
https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/30/opinions/fractured-states-of-america-polarization-is-killing-us-avlon/index.html.

Blake, Aaron and Scott, Eugene. “Joe Biden’s inauguration speech transcript, annotated.” The Washington Post, January 20, 2020.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/01/20/biden-inauguration-speech/.

De-Wit, Lee, Van Der Linden, Sander, and Brick, Cameron. “What Are the Solutions to Political Polarization?” Greater Good Magazine, July 2, 2019.
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_are_the_solutions_to_political_polarization.

Edsall, Thomas B. “No Hate Left Behind.” The New York Times, March 13, 2019.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/13/opinion/hate-politics.html.

“Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem From an Illusion of Understanding.” Association for Psychological Science, April 29, 2013.
https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/extreme-political-attitudes-may-stem-from-an-illusion-of-understanding.html.

“Transcript of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech.” The Associated Press, November 7, 2020.
https://apnews.com/article/election-2020-joe-biden-religion-technology-race-and-ethnicity-2b961c70bc72c2516046bffd378e95de.

The Class of 2021’s College Application Process — in the Coronavirus Pandemic

by Aparna Deokar

News

January 27, 2021

Many of BUA’s seniors were able to breathe a sigh of relief after the first week of January this year: COVID-19 has been a rollercoaster for everyone, from young schoolkids to elderly grandparents, and high school seniors all across the world are no different. To learn more about how the pandemic has affected BUA’s seniors and their college application processes, I interviewed Ms. Evans and Ms. Atkinson from the college counseling team for their thoughts on how the college application process has changed this year as compared to previous years, Saoirse Killion ’21, a humanities-focused student, and Aditi Deokar ’21, a STEM-focused student.

Unfortunately, tours for many colleges were canceled in junior spring and senior fall for the Class of 2021. Tours really help seniors to get a feel for college campuses and are often a source of inspiration for the common “Why this college?” essay, in which students write about why they’re interested in attending a particular college. Reflecting on her own essays, Aditi said it would have been “better to have more personal anecdotes about each college” and a better perception of the colleges overall — she had to steer her essays more toward focusing on academic influence than environment. Ms. Evans said, “It is different to not be able to really gain a sense of the surroundings of a campus. Even sometimes going through that process of getting into a car or getting on a plane and [going] to a campus — you can learn a lot about what feels right to you, how you might feel about going a little bit farther or closer to home.” Colleges tackled the problem of tours in many different ways, including virtual tours and detailed college websites. Saoirse commented that she “virtually toured all the colleges [she] was interested in.” She saw these tours and other online webinars, panels, and sessions as “very helpful” and said that they “made the whole college search process more equitable.” Similarly, Aditi noted that she was able to get a lot of information out of the college websites, which was the main source of information that she used, and she said that BUA’s alumni fairs really helped her as well. But she also said that the virtual tours were less helpful than normal tours, mainly because they were geared toward a wider audience. 

Another change from previous years was that a significant number of Class of 2020 students worldwide deferred their college enrollment to 2021; in other words, many of last year’s high school graduates took a gap year after getting accepted. This affects this year’s seniors, since to prevent the undergraduate class of 2025 from getting too large, fewer seniors will be accepted in many colleges, though the extent to which deferrals will actually affect this year’s admissions is uncertain. Ms. Atkinson said, “In our conversations in the fall with admission officers, [deferrals don’t] seem to be as big of a deal at most places our BUA students are applying as people might think.” Both Aditi and Saoirse touched on the fact that it was difficult to know exactly how much they were affected by deferrals, since the regular decision statistics have not been released. Aditi did mention that the college that she applied to early decision admitted fewer students than it had in past years and had a lower acceptance rate.

Test-optional policies have also made acceptance more competitive this year. The main change that test-optional policies initiated was that potentially lower-scoring students were able to apply to higher-ranked colleges, making applicant pools more competitive. These policies are by no means new; as Ms. Evans said, “Standardized testing has been under scrutiny for a few years anyway.” But many more colleges all over the world decided to give students the option not to submit standardized test scores this application season, since many tests were cancelled last spring and fall. Aditi elaborated on this, saying that she was “lucky to have gotten most of her standardized testing out of the way early,” but that she knew this was a problem and that it was a huge help to many students to have BUA hold a testing session. This testing policy seems like an upside for students unable to take the tests and students who may have scored lower than they desired, but for other students who were able to take the test and score well, their scores may have counted for less.

Acceptance rates are expected to shift this year as well. Students are applying to more colleges, and yield rates, or the percentages of applicants who accept their admissions offers, are decreasing. We expect colleges to accept more early decision applicants, who have binding acceptance contracts, to guarantee enrollment in the Class of 2025. However, we expect a decrease in early action (the nonbinding early application cycle) and regular decision rates, because the numbers of applicants in these cycles have significantly increased. “We’re hearing that especially at the most selective schools, there’s a significant increase in the regular decision rounds,” Ms. Atkinson said.

Comparing 2020 and 2021 admission rates from some institutions that BUA students often apply to illustrates these changes. Last year, Harvard had an early action admission rate of 13.9%, which decreased this year to 7.4%; last year, MIT had an early action rate of 7.4%, which decreased this year to 4.8%; last year, BU had an early decision rate of 31%, which increased this year to 43.7%, all as expected. Brown is the outlier: last year, it had an early decision rate of 17.5%, which decreased this year to 16%.

One last change that has happened very recently is the postponing of Ivy Day, the date when Ivy League colleges release their decisions for the regular cycle. After getting a significant increase in applications, all of the Ivy League colleges agreed to postpone Ivy Day from March 31 to April 6. This has in turn pushed the date for students to turn in their college decisions from May 1 to May 3. Aditi, when asked about how this would affect her, said that she’s glad the colleges will have more time to think about her application, but thinks that the main upside is that the decision deadline is extended, which is good for students appealing for more financial aid.

To end, Ms. Atkinson imparts a message: “Essay writing, engagement with colleges, and coursework — what kids choose to take while they’re at BUA and BU and how they do in those courses — those still tend to be the most important parts of the college application. And the BU Admissions agreement continues to be such a huge gift.” And to encourage everyone to keep their eye on the big picture, Ms. Evans says, “[Ms. Atkinson and I] are here to help guide [students]. At the end of the day, they’re going to be alright. I encourage students to just take it one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. [College] should be a great journey and experience. To the younger students — live in the moment, focus on what you’re doing right now, enjoy the learning.”


Book Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol: A Charming Take on a Classic Tale

by Sally Jamrog

Reviews

January 27, 2021
Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. Sally Jamrog for The Scarlet Letter

Although many people are familiar with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, few may have considered its origin story. This is the premise of Samantha Silva’s debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol (USA: Flatiron Books, 2017), a fictional take on the creation of Dickens’ Christmas classic. Though primarily a work of fiction, Silva’s story is based on well-researched historical records, offering many cultural tidbits about the old London lifestyle as well as a witty, heartwarming celebration of Dickens’ work and the holiday spirit.

It’s early December, 1843 in Victorian London, and Charles Dickens is in a bit of a financial pinch. His latest book, Martin Chuzzlewit, isn’t selling half as well as his earlier publications, which include Nicholas Nickelby, Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop, among others. Even though Dickens claims Martin Chuzzlewit is his favorite work to date, his publishers urge him to write a Christmas book instead or else face a reduction in his salary. Dickens reluctantly agrees to this proposition in an effort to support his ever-growing family and increasingly excessive lifestyle. Coming from a childhood of poverty and meager Christmases himself, Dickens is plagued by the looming ghosts of his past, so to speak, and like Scrooge, embarks on a journey to rediscover the delights and joys of the holiday season.

One of the many things I dearly loved about Silva’s novel was her authentic, detailed portrayal of Victorian London, which not only showcased her solid writing skills, but also her ability to convincingly recreate the time-period. Surprisingly, though having lived in London three times before Mr. Dickens and His Carol had become a working project, Silva admitted that “[she] didn’t know a great deal about Dickens or Victorian London” before starting her research for the book.1 “I wanted to understand London the way he saw it,” Silva said. “The way it smelled and sounded to him — what his famed night walks of twenty miles around the city felt like; [I] wanted to understand his pain, his fears, his grandiosity, his compassion.”1 Her care and diligence in forging this connection with Dickens and his London are apparent in her book. Silva not only expertly captures the physical backdrop and minutiae of mid-nineteenth century London, but also the more subtle mannerisms and social atmosphere of the era with her characters and clever dialogue. The effect is a rich and thoroughly absorbing experience that transports readers into Dickens’ very thoughts.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is as much a celebration of the English language as it is a tribute to Dickens himself. After finishing this book, readers can expect their minds to be stocked with intriguing new words. While at times I thought Silva bordered on flaunting her extensive vocabulary, her words are deftly chosen. I believe they contribute to her book being “a love letter” to Dickens, since he was also partial to unique vocabulary.2 Silva’s adept ability to wield the English language is also clear from her artful use of imagery. In particular, I loved her descriptions of London’s fog, which often causes Dickens to lose his way on his night walks around the city. Silva’s usage of the fog cleverly illustrates Dickens’ personal confusion as well as the tangle of ideas that he’s struggling to unravel. I was reminded of a similar image in Dickens’ Bleak House, which Dickens cunningly uses to reinforce the general languor and boredom that his characters feel regarding the long-standing Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case. Being a Dickens admirer and reader myself, I found that Silva truly captures his style, endearingly emulating his ingenious banter and imagery. 

Readers should keep in mind that Silva did not intend for her work to be a biography of Dickens, but rather a reimagining of historical events. In her Author’s Note, Silva acknowledges that she takes liberties with some aspects of Dickens’ life, inventing some characters and exaggerating events, sometimes more effectively than others.  However, I don’t think this undermines her meticulous research, because it only enhances her excellent narrative. “Nearly all the characters are based on real people, and the best lines, to be sure, are things they actually said,” Silva writes.3 “This book is my tribute to [Dickens’] prodigious gift, written with full awareness that he is, and always will be, inimitable.”3 

I highly recommend Silva’s novel to Dickens lovers of any sort, and I suggest reading Mr. Dickens and His Carol in conjunction with A Christmas Carol to fully appreciate both books.


1 Daryl M., “Interview With an Author: Samantha Silva,” Los Angeles Public Library, November 4, 2017,
https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/interview-author-samantha-silva.

2 Samantha Silva, Mr. Dickens and His Carol (USA: Flatiron Books, 2017), p. 274.

3 Samantha Silva, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, p. 276.

Who Got You Through 2020? Interviews With Teachers and Students

by Giselle Wu

News

January 27, 2021

2020 has not been a year that any of us would have asked for. It has been unexpectedly challenging, exhausting, and sorrowful. Worldwide, a devastating pandemic took the lives of more than two million people; in America, the issue of police brutality took center stage, and our democracy itself faced unusual challenges — in short, it has been difficult to find a bright side to 2020. But it’s important to remember that 2020 was filled with many loving and caring moments. And at BUA, we are grateful for all the support and positivity in our caring community during these times. In this spirit, please find below responses from BUA students and teachers to the following question:

Can you name someone from the BUA community who got you through 2020?

Mr. Kolovos:

It’s impossible for me to pick just one person! I’ll start with my colleagues on the faculty and staff, who have been working since the summer to envision what this unusual year would look like and have been so creative and flexible as we’ve made it happen. I think about all of the students who have accepted the new rules and changes joyfully; because they are taking this so seriously, we haven’t missed a single day due to COVID-19. And I’m so grateful to all the parents for how warmly they’ve welcomed me and how they’ve partnered with us. It’s been the most incredible team effort this year. What a beautiful example of what we can accomplish together.

Dr. Larash:

The short answer, of course, is everyone! Dr. White, Ms. Brewster, and Mr. Kolovos did so much to make things possible, as well as Mr. Curran and his IT team, who got us set up in August in preparation for the new school year. But as for “getting me through” — to me, that’s asking who are my companions on this strange, uncertain journey, and I have to say my students. I continue to be impressed by and grateful for their good humor, willingness to try out new things, and perseverance! In the classroom I found a community banding together in an otherwise scattered and fragmented year. I would particularly like to thank the staff and writers of The Scarlet Letter for their work all year, especially with the December 2020 issue, in giving us a record of and reflections on this strange year that has so tested us.

Ms. Hakimi:

The BUA tour guides definitely played a large part in getting me through the fall of 2020. Our tour guides have always played a huge part in welcoming prospective families to campus, and it was important for us to continue to spotlight this group even if we had to run a virtual admission process. Starting in the summer, a group of two dozen eleventh and twelfth-grade BUAers started working with our admission office to design a virtual information session that would teach applicants about our academic and extracurricular programs — all via Zoom. On average, they’ve run twenty-plus sessions a week and have hosted over 350 prospective families, all with a smile on their faces. We couldn’t do our work without them, and we’re grateful for their support of our admission efforts!

Dr. Jewell:

I relied on the moral (and sometimes technical!) support of all my faculty friends. In particular, Ms. Brewster has been a problem-solving powerhouse. She’s been on the lookout for ways to make things run smoothly, fill gaps in technology or equipment, brainstorm new ways to get things done — and she drops words of encouragement at just the right time. Dr. Taylor has been unfailingly kind: she stops in just to say hello, and she’s always happy to see other colleagues — which lifts my spirits in turn. She’s been generous with her time, Zooming separately with me to help me learn new technology and walk me through some things I’d never tried before. And Dr. Larash has been (as always) a voice of gentle support and enthusiastic encouragement. She always shares teaching ideas; she volunteers to demo and “guinea-pig” new technology and exercises with us; she celebrates little victories among students who are learning new things; and she listens and shares on those days when things are hard, which is important too.

And here’s who else got me through: my students in my classes. I was in awe of their flexibility and grace last year. At the end of our first remote week, I said to them, “Look what you just did!” And (not gonna lie) I teared up a little bit… and I think I saw that some of them did too. The knowledge that we were all doing our best, and giving each other room to do our best, was deeply comforting. And then, at the end of the semester, something else gave me a boost to last me for a while: the little notes students wrote, or left on their last pieces of work — just a little note here and there, but oh, so deeply appreciated.

Mrs. Brown:

I have been in awe at the work done behind the scenes by Director of Operations Paige Brewster. From working with BUA families on digital access to arranging new furniture in every classroom to attending hours upon hours of meetings with BU officials about COVID-19 regulations, Ms. Brewster has done amazing work getting BUA through 2020. When it’s all over, we should have a parade for her!

Dr. Formichelli:

I’ll shift the wording just slightly, if I may, so I can focus on friendship of equals, rather than a Virgil carries Dante type of mentorship. Within the BUA community, the person with whom I went through 2020 — shoulder to shoulder — is Jim Davis. Not only do I like him personally, by which I mean I enjoy talking about books, philosophy, and life in general with him, but there’s a deeper resonance, since we’ve shared some similar experiences (this year and last year), and our backgrounds are kind of a bond between us that often bring us not only shoulder to shoulder, but often eye to eye. I admire him as a teacher and thinker, but most of all as someone who has moral convictions, and the courage of his convictions. That’s not so easy to find these days, and it makes him that rare colleague and friend, prized even more for his rarity. He’d probably be surprised to hear this, but he also sometimes has a kind of Beckettian sanity and humor, which not infrequently makes me “Irish laugh.”

Sally Jamrog ‘23:

A lot of people got me through 2020, but my immediate family and my friends in the BUA community especially did. Like for most people (I’d imagine), 2020 was a hard year for me socially, so I’m extremely grateful that I was able to see my friends on Zoom during the summer and in person during the fall semester. This saved my year!

Madison Ho ‘24:

A group of people at BUA who have gotten me through 2020 is my freshman English class. The camaraderie I have found from surprising Dr. Formichelli with random costumes on Wednesday to having heated discussions about fish sticks is something I will cherish forever. Through the many challenges 2020 presented, I found that such relationships and friendships were what provided me with the most support. And looking back, I’m able to see just how much I gained in 2020.

Georgia Senate Runoff Elections: Democrats Take Control of the Senate

by Julia Dickinson

News

January 27, 2021

The results of the Georgia Senate runoff elections will shape the political climate on Capitol Hill. Those results should have made headlines on January 6; instead, amidst the chaos of the attack on Capitol Hill that day, they lost some of their share of the spotlight. But still, they should not be overlooked.

Much rested on the results of Georgia’s Senate elections; the stakes were perhaps even higher than they were for Georgia in the presidential election. Democrats went into the election looking to take control of the Senate — they needed to win two seats to split the Senate 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, where Vice President Kamala Harris would cast a tie-breaking vote if needed. Republicans, on the other hand, hoped to stand their ground. Democrat Ralph Warnock ran against Republican Kelly Loeffler, and Democrat Jon Ossoff ran against Republican David Perdue.1 Warnock and Loeffler were already scheduled for a January special election. The regular election for Ossoff and Perdue was carried out in November as normal; however, neither candidate was able to secure the fifty percent majority needed for the election to be called, so a runoff was scheduled for January.1 This left Georgia in a unique position with two Senate elections in January.

Democrats took the charge, earnestly campaigning for both of their candidates. They raised over a hundred million dollars for each campaign, a record for Senate races, and hosted countless events to encourage more people to vote for Warnock and Ossoff.2 The diversity of the candidates drew in voters from Georgia’s growing cities, which largely lean Democratic. Suzie Marcus ‘22 says, “It’s cool to see the first Jewish and first Black Senators from Georgia.” She also notes that “Democrats geared their campaign towards young voters. Ossoff has a TikTok.” The impact of the youth vote has increased with the increased turnout of youth voters.3 People have used social media as a tool to rally young voters, and it has worked: the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement says that 52-55% of people ages eighteen to twenty-nine cast ballots, a significant increase from recent years.3 Since the youth vote leans Democratic, it was vital for the Georgian Democrats to bring young people to the polls.3

On the other end of the spectrum, Republicans were not doing much to support their candidates. This was perhaps driven by Donald Trump, who barely put any effort into helping the Georgian GOP candidates. Instead, he chose to focus on spreading lies about the presidential election, claiming he had won when clearly he had not, and building distrust in elections among his supporters.4 His claims of a corrupt election, though false, could have kept Georgian Republicans away from the polls.4

On January 20, both Warnock and Ossoff were sworn into the Senate.5 Along with Alex Padilla (D-CA), appointed to take Kamala Harris’ Senate seat, they shifted the Senate majority to the Democratic Party.5 This should make it easier for Democrats to confirm Biden’s cabinet and pass policies and laws. As Suzie says, “The four disastrous years with Trump and a [Republican] Senate majority together showed people how easy it is to pass laws with a Senate majority and a president of the same party.” Republicans will struggle against the Democratic majority not only in the Senate, but in the House of Representatives and in the Executive Branch as well. The Democrats have this majority and political opportunity largely because of Warnock’s and Ossoff’s wins in Georgia.


1 Amy Gardner and Erica Werner, “Georgia certifies Ossoff and Warnock victories, paving way for Democratic control of Senate,” The Washington Post, January 19, 2021,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/georgia-certifies-ossoff-warnock-victories-paving-way-for-democratic-control-of-senate/2021/01/19/8b9cf672-5a59-11eb-a976-bad6431e03e2_story.html.

2 Rick Rojas, “Democrats in Georgia Runoffs Bring in Record Haul,” The New York Times, December 25, 2020,
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/25/us/politics/georgia-senate-record-fundraising.html.

3 Kalhan Rosenblatt, “Gen Z is using TikTok to encourage youth voter turnout in Georgia’s runoffs,” NBC, January 4, 2021,
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/gen-z-using-tiktok-encourage-youth-voter-turnout-georgia-s-n1252787.

4 Richard Fausset, “Georgia Certifies Senate Victories of Warnock and Ossoff,” The New York Times, January 19, 2021,
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/us/warnock-ossoff-senate.html.

5 Barbara Sprunt, “With New Georgia Democrats Sworn In, Democrats Officially Control The Senate,” NPR, January 20, 2021,
https://www.npr.org/sections/inauguration-day-live-updates/2021/01/20/958531015/new-georgia-senators-sworn-in-democrats-now-officially-control-the-senate.

Tenet Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

January 27, 2021

Tenet is a science fiction action movie directed by Chistopher Nolan and starring John David Washington as The Protagonist, Elizabeth Debicki as Kat, Robert Pattinson as Neil, and Kenneth Branagh as Andrei Sator. Tenet came to theaters in September of 2020 and became available digitally and on DVD in mid-December. 

Tenet is a movie that you may have to watch with subtitles and then rewatch several times to fully understand the plot. When it was released in movie theaters, many theater-goers complained that the dialogue during some scenes was difficult to make out. Watching this film on a digital platform or DVD with subtitles resolves this problem. 

The basic plot goes as follows: the Protagonist and Neil are given a secret assignment to stop a threat that could cause World War III. They have to prevent Andrei Sator, a Russian billionaire, from acquiring a mysterious weapon that could destroy the world. Sator’s wife Kat, whom Sator is blackmailing, helps them with their mission.

The movie includes a few Easter Eggs, one of which is its title — the detail that Tenet is a palindrome is a brief hint to the variation of time travel that is featured in the movie. More palindromes follow: Andrei Sator’s name references the Sator Square, or Rotas Square, which contains a Latin palindrome. Time travel is crucial to the plot. And the depiction of time travel in Tenet is incredibly different from depictions in other popular time travel movies, such as Back to the Future. Christopher Nolan brings his originality, known to viewers of Inception, to the often-used plot device — his take on time travel makes for exciting action scenes and requires the viewer to pay close attention to what is happening on the screen.

I think this movie is well-scripted and has a great plot. The visual effects are stunning, and the stunts are coordinated very well. There are some incredibly confusing scenes that I needed to rewatch to fully understand. The movie has surprising twists that are difficult to see coming. And I like that one of Nolan’s favorite actors, Michael Caine, makes a small cameo in the movie. I would recommend watching Tenet if you’re a fan of Nolan’s film Inception, or if you want to watch an original action film that you’ll keep thinking about long after the credits roll. You’ll likely never look at palindromes the same way again.

Why the Humanities Matter

by Sally Jamrog

Opinion

December 14, 2020
The Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, The Iliad, and The Norton Book of Classical Literature are among the texts read in BUA’s freshman English and history courses. Luke Hargrave for The Scarlet Letter

In a world where the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are increasingly overshadowing the humanities, some wonder whether humanities degrees are worth pursuing anymore. Our society is rapidly improving because of advances in science and technology, and consequently, it can be difficult to realize the importance of studying literature and history. In the United States, colleges have been facing steep declines in humanities majors, a phenomenon historians are labeling the “humanities crisis.” Though only recently getting the attention it deserves, the humanities crisis has been ongoing for fifty years: it began in the 1970s, when the dropping of enrollments in humanities curricula began to become noticeable.1

With college tuition prices rising annually, students today are often saddled with massive debt upon graduating and therefore face increased pressure to pursue a course of study that will ensure a lucrative job — this has become synonymous with pursuing a degree in STEM. The number of history majors has dropped 33% since 2011, while English, religion, and language majors have been in steady decline since the financial crisis in 2008.2 Students worry that a job procured from a humanities degree would not have a salary high enough to make a living and pay off college debt. A STEM degree seems to hold a more secure promise of a high-paying job. These beliefs could result from a misconception that the only career prospects for humanities students lie in academia. Teachers truly shape the future of our society by providing education for generations of students, but they are paid relatively little in comparison to other professions that require a college degree. Yet we see that some of the most financially successful people today do come from a humanities background: a survey done in 2012 found that of the 652 American CEOs and heads of product engineering who participated, almost 60% held degrees in the humanities.3 And there is not a lack of jobs that rely on skills cultivated by studying the humanities either. The critical and logical thinking developed by a humanities education has a multitude of applications, from partaking in activities in daily life to explaining data from a lab. The World Economic Forum states that some of the most sought-after skills in the career market are active listening, speaking, critical thinking, and reading comprehension, all skills that are developed through our studying the humanities.4

Surely, STEM is important to the development of the world around us. But humanities carry an equal, not lesser importance, simply because many of the challenges that humans face are multifaceted. “The big problems we face as a species and as a country, all of which are man-made, require interdisciplinary solutions,” says classics and history teacher Dr. Alonge. “Thanks to science we now have at least three COVID-19 vaccines, but understanding our catastrophically poor national response to the pandemic is a humanities question.” 

As apparent from the word, the term “humanities” describes the study of human beings and their  culture. It derives from how we think about human nature and self-expression.5 Without the humanities, we as humans would forget who we are. “It’s really the original question, or litany of questions: who am I? What makes me who I am? And then, by extension, who are you? What makes you who you are?” says English teacher Dr. Formichelli. The humanities are essential to understanding ourselves as a species and figuring out who we are as individuals. By studying the humanities, we create opportunities to empathize with each other; we find out what makes others who they are and how we can relate to them. “It is in humanities courses that students get a chance to explore the fundamental questions of human existence,” says Mr. Kolovos. “An education without that kind of exploration misses the mark, and our society would be worse off for it.” Without the humanities, we would lose our connection to the past and knowledge of past happenings that have made us who we are today. Just as a scientist would not dispose of knowledge from previous experiments, humans should look back to past advancements in the humanities in order to improve ourselves as a species and as a society.

With the humanities, we can recognize and address familiar patterns in human nature. “I am often reminded of a quote by Mark Twain that goes, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,’” says Amelia Boudreau ‘23. “Studying humanities proves unceasingly that that quote rings true.” Fellow BUA students might recall reading The Divine Comedy in sophomore history, a poem in which Dante Alighieri diagnoses and prescribes solutions to the problematic “rule” of the papacy during his time. Although Alighieri wrote during the early fourteenth century, the problems he grapples with in his text are similar to the problems politicians and citizens are facing today: the same insatiable greed for power and authority that Dante describes as strangling the church in his time can be spotted within modern governments and responses to issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is in learning and thinking about past tendencies of human nature that we can fully understand and move forward in solving the problems of our present world.

We currently live in a society where misinformation and propaganda exist in abundance: because the modern world revolves around technology, people are continually bombarded with information by means of social media, advertisement campaigns, and news from around the world. In this whirlwind of facts and figures, we can not always rely on what we see online or what we read in the paper anymore. It becomes harder to discern fact from opinion. Hence, it is essential in this modern world to be able to think independently, to be able to sift through many sources of information and finally form one’s own opinion. Reading and analyzing literature and history teaches us to question — to question information, to take famous works off of pedestals and question their authors. Independent thinking is a mark of individuality; without this capability, we lose what makes us ourselves.

Humans write to spread ideas: to refer to a previous example, Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during his exile to spread awareness among the common populace. Amelia Boudreau ‘23 says, “Writing is one of humanity’s few mediums of untethered expression. It’s critical to study writing and literature, as it can teach us the obvious, how to express ourselves, as well as the less obvious, how to understand the behaviors and nuances of those around us.” We read to become exposed to new perspectives. Writing is then a medium through which we can express our ideas. And it is particularly effective for reaching a broader audience — this is of note, considering the nearly eight billion people inhabiting our world today. Most humanities curricula teach some form of analytical writing; that may comprise analyzing a historical document or a form of literature. It is through this practice of analytical writing that humans can communicate their ideas effectively and share them with a greater community. 

Thus, although some argue that the study of the humanities has limited relevance in modern education, where the push to study STEM is gaining more and more momentum, it is crucial that we do not forget the many ways in which the humanities matter and will continue to benefit humans as individuals and as a species. Alyssa Ahn ‘23 says, “As people, we need to have a fundamental understanding of what it means to be human… so that we can create a better future.” Studying the humanities has never ceased to be important; human beings will always benefit from the knowledge of people who have come before them. In the words of Dr. Alonge, “Empathy, communication, justice, beauty — as long as these things matter, the humanities will matter.”


1 Heidi Tworek, “The Real Reason the Humanities are ‘in Crisis,’” The Atlantic, December 18, 2013,
https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/the-real-reason-the-humanities-are-in-crisis/282441/.

2 Beth McMurtie, “Can you get students interested in the humanities again?” University World News, November 9, 2019,
https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20191109053633715#:~:text=Across%20America%2C%20humanities%20majors%20have,a%2033%25%20drop%20in%20majors.&text=According%20to%20surveys%20by%20the,%2D14%20to%202016%2D17.

3 Lindsay Thomas, “Infographics Friday: Bachelor of Arts Degrees, 1988-2008,” 4Humanities, October 26, 2012,
4humanities.org/infographic.

4 Anna Moro, “The humanities are becoming more important. Here’s why.” World Economic Forum, June 14, 2018,
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/how-a-humanities-degree-will-serve-you-in-a-disruptive-economy.

5 The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Humanities,” Britannica, July 20, 1998,
https://www.britannica.com/topic/humanities.

BU’s Coronavirus Plans

by Julia Dickinson

News

December 14, 2020

It’s almost winter break, almost time to relax after putting in hard work all semester. We’ve been able to complete this semester in person four days a week, much to the surprise of many. There are many reasons as to why we’ve been able to attend in-person school all semester, but one stands out from them all: BU’s COVID-19 plans.

At BUA, we are beyond lucky to have BU’s resources at our disposal during the pandemic. We’re tested in their facilities multiple times a week, and we’ve implemented Learn from Anywhere (LfA), a hybrid model of learning that allows students to choose in-person or remote classes.1,2 The planning instituted by BUA and BU has allowed us to learn on campus for the entirety of the fall semester, and as such, our main aim has been met. But if we now look more closely at these past few months, a question arises: how well have these plans truly held up?

BU has been testing members of the BU community with the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) COVID-19 test, since this test is known for having a very low false-positive rate and quick results.3 BU built its own lab over the summer to accommodate the sheer number of students needing testing — over 4,000 tests are administered every day.3 Initially, the university struggled to keep its promise to provide results the day after testing.4 The lab, however, quickly rose to the challenge, and although testing turnaround time still hiccups sometimes, the issue has largely been fixed.4 There appears to be a trend with the results: positive tests have increased after major holidays such as Labor Day, Halloween, and most recently, Thanksgiving.4 The rise in positive cases following these holidays hasn’t caused any major changes in BU policies yet, but an eye still should be kept on these spikes.

The LfA plan was introduced to allow students to learn in a way that made sense for their health.2 Under this program, any student who prefers or needs to stay off-campus can learn from home, while students feeling more comfortable with returning to campus can learn in the classroom again.2 At BUA, adjusting to hybrid learning took some time; those in person struggled to hear their classmates online, and students learning remotely faced a similar problem, struggling to hear their in-person classmates and then sometimes even feeling ignored. By October, however, the major kinks were worked out. BU has faced similar issues with their program — many students feel that LfA has been more awkward than helpful.5 But nonetheless, LfA has allowed students to learn safely.

Both frequent testing and flexible learning environments have been great opportunities this fall. And now, with the semester coming to a close, many of us are starting to look toward spring. BU will still offer testing and LfA next semester.6 And BU has chosen to push forward the start of next semester, adding one more week of winter break and eliminating spring break.6 This plan has been met with mixed feelings from BUA students taking university classes and BU students alike. It was made in an effort to avoid a rise in the number of positive cases on campus brought about by mid-semester travel.6 But the decision does not come without its shortcomings: spring break is essential for students’ mental health, and without it, more students will likely suffer from mid-semester burnout, diminishing the quality of their work. 

BU’s COVID-19 plans have been a success; they’ve effectively allowed members of the BU community to return to in-person school. The plans aren’t perfect, but they’ve worked much better than many of those implemented at other colleges in America. We at BUA are extremely lucky to have access to BU’s resources during the pandemic. Now, as we head into winter break, it’s time to leave campus for a bit and take some time to unwind safely at home.


1 Joel Brown, “BU Details Campuswide COVID-19 Testing Plan for Fall,” BU Today, June 17, 2020,
http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/campuswide-covid-19-testing-plan-for-fall/.

2 Robert A. Brown, “Letter to Returning Students on Learn from Anywhere,” June 9, 2020,
https://www.bu.edu/president/letter-to-returning-students-on-learn-from-anywhere/.

3 “COVID-19 Screening, Testing & Contact Tracing,” Back2BU,
https://www.bu.edu/back2bu/student-health-safety/covid-19-screening-testing-contact-tracing/.

4 Kat J. McAlpine, “Boston University Weekly COVID-19 Report: September 2-8,” The Brink, September 9, 2020,
http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/boston-university-weekly-covid-report-09-10/.

5 Sara Rimer, “BU Students: Zoom vs In-Person Classes? It’s Complicated,” BU Today, November 9, 2020,
http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/students-learn-from-anywhere/?utm_campaign=bu_today&utm_source=email_20201110_full&utm_medium=1_featured_story&utm_content=student.

6 Art Jahnke, “BU Pushes Back Start of 2021 Spring Semester, Cancels Spring Break,” BU Today, September 29, 2020,
http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/bu-pushes-back-start-of-2021-spring-semester-cancels-spring-break/.

Virtual Admissions

by Ibukun Owolabi

News

December 14, 2020
A panel of BUA students answered questions from prospective students at a virtual open house on December 1. Ms. Hakimi for The Scarlet Letter

The stretch of months from October to March, known as admission season, marks one of the most important times for students seeking to apply to independent schools. Many students remember their own experience with applying to high school and occasionally look back at it. Now that we’re in the midst of another virtual admissions season, I asked some of my fellow freshman to reflect on their experiences with virtual admissions and interviewed the BUA admissions team.

Therese Draper ‘24 says that she found her shadow day to be the most helpful admissions event out of the many that she attended during her application process. She then has some concerns about the virtual admissions process for students applying to BUA this year: “I don’t think they’ll really get a feel for how it should be here.” While Therese was fortunate enough to get an in-person shadow day, some other members of the Class of 2024 attended shadow days during the months of quarantine and so experienced BUA classes virtually. David Sadka ‘24, one of such students, remembers sitting in on a calculus class during his remote shadow day in June. While he feels that the class was very informative and well-led, he does think that it would have been better if he “could talk to the teacher one-on-one.”

The changes necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic continue to shape the admissions process this year. It has moved to a completely virtual platform. On December 1, the admissions team held a virtual open house for students applying to BUA. I was part of the student panel and assisted Mr. Stone in the questions and answers portion pertaining to the Athletics Department. The open house was a webinar, and the panel answered questions asked by the attendees. Common questions asked include: is this school year normal? How is the remote transition from eighth to ninth grade? In this surely unusual year, the BUA admissions team has not deviated from one aim: as always, they hope to ensure that prospective students have the best experience possible. 

For more information on how the admissions process is now being conducted at BUA, I reached out to Ms. Hakimi, BUA’s Director of Admission, and Ms. Shannon, BUA’s Associate Director of Admission. The following segment consists of a series of questions that I asked and the responses from the admissions team.

How do you plan to conduct revisit days?

We are operating under the assumption that it is probably a pipe-dream for us to host large groups of visitors on campus in March, so if we are unable to do that, we plan to [do several things]: host virtual panels of current students, teachers, parents, and alumni so that families hear from all the different constituent groups at BUA; continue to share webinar recordings and our virtual tour so that families have a visual of what our building looks like; offer the opportunity to Zoom into live classes at BUA; offer opportunities for applicants and their parents to connect one-on-one with members of our community to ask questions; and probably [organize] more fun stuff that we’ll think of in the next few months!

Are interviews easier to conduct now that they are virtual?

[There is now] time to interview more families during the weekend and evenings, and it’s easier for families because they do not have to commute. There are some things that can be a little bit more challenging: technology issues might naturally come up, it can take longer to make some students feel comfortable in the Zoom setting, and we usually have less time with the students than we would have if they spent the day at BUA, which is sad! 

How is the admissions team fielding questions about the impact of the coronavirus on admissions?

We have been doing a mix of sharing information in email newsletters and also filming short video clips for families that we will share through email and on social media. And on our website, we have many FAQs about the coronavirus. We have also trained our tour guides to speak about their school experiences during the coronavirus times.

Is the admission team taking into account the fact that the coronavirus can affect admissions?

Yes! Our keyword this year is flexibility! We recognize that families are stressed about their applications this year — transcripts, teacher recommendations, and school offerings might be thin or not offered at all, and we understand this. We have been very understanding, and we have been helping families substitute materials with things they can get access to, whenever possible. That being said, we are still looking to enroll a class of curious and kind students — we will be reaching out to families directly when we need additional information or clarification.

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

by Matthew Volfson

News

December 14, 2020

Kamala Harris’s election to the Vice Presidency of the United States is representative of the changing American political system. Harris is the first female, Black, and South Asian American to become vice president. She has broken racial and gender barriers; she has inspired a generation of Americans. Some look to follow in her footsteps: one such girl in Georgia expressed a desire to be like her, to look like her.1

Harris’ victory is part of a long fight. It has taken over a hundred years for a woman to win the vice presidency. Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run to become president, back in 1872.2 In her time, most states barred women from voting, with the exception of certain western states, such as Wyoming.3 Voting for women wasn’t legalized across the United States until 1920, when the nineteenth amendment was passed.4 Women continue to face a struggle to gain more power in the United States government — the harmful belief that a woman’s place is in her home still prevails today. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that 57% of women polled agreed that there are lingering issues regarding gender discrimination in America.5 Harris’ election is viewed by many as a step in the right direction, but it is only one step — there is still much that needs to be changed.

Racial discrimination is still prevalant in America. In another Pew Research Center survey, over 60% of Black Americans polled said they experienced discrimination at some point in their lives.6 Black drivers are 20% more likely to be stopped by police.7 George Floyd’s death is one example of lingering inequality in America — it shows that police discriminate against African Americans. The United Nations even recognized such discrimination against African Americans in a resolution denouncing such actions taken by police.8 Harris’ election brings some hope that the opportunity gap between Black and white Americans will eventually close. 

Representation matters — Harris’ victory is proof or validation for women and people of color (POC) that they too could hold political office or more generally, become leaders. Yet there is also an underlying issue that needs to be addressed: it has taken too long for minorities to be represented in the higher-ups of the American executive branch. Lack of opportunity for POC and women persists in the United States.

But although Harris is a step forward in many ways, the specifics of her political career fall into more of a gray area and inspire mixed feelings at BUA. A BUA student who wished not to be named believes that “[Harris’ victory] will send some South Asian and Black children a great boost of confidence.” Yet at the same time, they say, “[Harris] is, as a whole, somewhat fake, in my opinion.” However, the student does believe that having such a “fake” character is necessary for conducting modern politics in the United States — they think that politicians who have “integrity cannot bring their once-revered intellectual debates and arguments to the attention of the populace,” and that therefore, “[Harris] is [merely] a symptom of the American political facade.” Domestically, the student is skeptical as to whether Kamala could really bring change: “In terms of domestic unification… I also have little hope for her.” Regarding whether Harris’ victory will change racial relations in the United States, the student is again not optimistic, saying that “institutional racism is… a product of culture, not government specifically.” They say, “When the government does something right, it’s rarely because they took initiative, but usually because the voters started shouting really [loudly].” 

Many Americans believe that Harris’ win represents a step forward for women and POC, but some then analyze Harris’ character and history in politics and find themselves dissatisfied. The anonymous student believes that if Harris truly wants to change how America’s society works, she has to “somehow reach the hearts of all Americans and change the culture [of the United States].” But they view doing this as “basically impossible.” Some view Harris’ win as a win for women and POC in America, yet others see Harris as just another cog in America’s political machine, unlikely to change much about it.


1 Kat Stafford and Christine Fernando, “Kamala Harris win inspires women and girls nationwide,” AP News, November 9, 2020,
https://apnews.com/article/kamala-harris-inspires-women-girls-0f1149ee9121285bbf873bcca54e2e61.

2 “Women Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates: A Selected List,” Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics,
https://cawp.rutgers.edu/levels_of_office/women-presidential-and-vice-presidential-candidates-selected-list.

3 “Wyoming and the 19th Amendment,” National Park Service,
https://www.nps.gov/articles/wyoming-women-s-history.htm#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20Wyoming%20was%20the,territory%20the%20right%20to%20vote.

4 “19th Amendment,” History,
https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/19th-amendment-1.

Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Kim Parker, and Renee Stepler, “Wide Partisan Gaps in U.S. Over How Far the Country Has Come on Gender Equality,” Pew Research Center, October 18, 2017, 
https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/10/18/wide-partisan-gaps-in-u-s-over-how-far-the-country-has-come-on-gender-equality/.

Monica Anderson, “For black Americans, experiences of racial discrimination vary by education level, gender,” Pew Research Center, May 2, 2019, 
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/02/for-black-americans-experiences-of-racial-discrimination-vary-by-education-level-gender/.

“Research Shows Black Drivers More Likely to Be Stopped by Police,” New York University,
http://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2020/may/black-drivers-more-likely-to-be-stopped-by-police.html.

Marina Riera, “UN Condemns Systemic Racism, Police Violence,” Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2020, 
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/20/un-condemns-systemic-racism-police-violence-0#.