Back in 2013, faculty member Taposhi Biswas had an idea. After a few years at CSW, she’d started to observe a common utterance amongst students and faculty. Whether it was in response to an idea, concept, event, or other occurrence, she kept hearing people say: “That’s so CSW” or, “That’s so NOT CSW.” As a scientist, she wanted to dig deeper. Why did so many people keep saying this? And what did they mean when they said it?
So she set up a community survey that posed respondents with one simple question:
What is the ONE thing that CSW should/will NEVER change, or get rid of? In other words, what is the one most important thing that makes CSW "CSW"?
She gathered up the responses and came up with the creative idea of sharing them via an original piece of artwork. Time ultimately got away from her, however, and the project never got off the ground. But she didn’t forget about it.
Flash forward to Fall 2018, when Taposhi determined the project was worth a revisit. Not only would the comparison between the two years yield a more dynamic result, but she decided that this year, in particular, would be an interesting time to pose this question again given that the school is about to undergo a number of significant changes — namely the welcoming of a new head of school and the transition to six mods.
“As a scientist, you don’t often get the chance to do longitudinal studies,” Taposhi says. “So when an opportunity comes around, it’s not something you pass up!”
So she sent the survey out again, and got to work reviewing and sorting the answers she’d received. It eventually became clear that most responses (across both survey years) fell into six categories: The Mod System, Student-Centered, Inclusion/Community, Individual Voice, Art, and Relationships. The question then became about how best to display the information.
“It was important to me that things be fluid and free, rather than grounded and fixed,” Taposhi shares. Her vision ultimately entailed printing and cutting out each of the submissions and — without any editing or censorship — attaching them to interconnected pieces of string. A different color string was assigned to each of the six themes she’d observed, with a special, almost-transparent silver string connecting pieces having to do with the idea that “CSW is changing.” The entire piece came together in an installation titled “WeAre,” which went on display in mid-January and was featured in the End-of-Mod 4 Show.
As they experienced the exhibit, visitors were able to see which answers had come from 2013, and which were from 2018. According to Taposhi, despite the school having undergone a number of changes over the past five years, many of the values touched upon in the responses remained the same, but were framed by different contexts. For example, many participants in 2013 talked about the significance and value of gatherings like Town Meeting, whereas in 2018, many respondents focused on the importance of student agency in terms of creating new leadership opportunities or choosing courses.
“That, to me, was an example of how while the school may shift in the way that it implements values, the values themselves haven’t actually changed,” Taposhi says.
She also noticed that many of the responses were longer and perhaps more fervent now than they were before, indicating that the school may be in an especially meaningful or pivotal moment in time.
For her own part, Taposhi is grateful to be part of a community where she, as a science teacher, doesn’t have to be pigeonholed into one discipline or genre. CSW is a place where students and faculty alike are encouraged — and even expected — to explore many things, as evidenced by her interest and artistic vision in executing this piece.