PLAID Voices: An Interview with Christopher Tan

PLAID’s mission is to support a vibrant and inclusive environment in which all members of the community can celebrate their authentic selves. 

PLAID fosters open dialogue through family programs, parent education, and community outreach.

We recently had the opportunity to interview PLAID Co-chair, Christopher Tan.

1) Why is PLAID’s work important to you?

My wife and I have two precious daughters, one in 2nd grade and one in Kindergarten. While they are just starting out on their journeys through life, it is likely that Hamlin will be the organization with which we will have the longest affiliation. Our girls will be spending their formative ages here, so of course we want to expend every effort to help foster a healthy school community! Also, part of our daughters’ education is learning how to operate in a global environment (notwithstanding the current lurch towards nationalism). To thrive in an increasingly connected world, our girls must:

-gain exposure to cultural, socioeconomic, and other differences
-learn how to navigate through them
-find common cause with other individuals
-but also retain their core values

PLAID’s twin goals of broadening perspectives and deepening connections within the Hamlin community are very much in line with our personal philosophy… so I don’t really think of it as “work.” 🙂

2) Tell us something about yourself as it relates to PLAID.

I grew up in Singapore and lived there for 20 years before moving to the United States. Singapore is a small nation of 5 million Chinese, Indians, Malays and Eurasians; a former British colony, it gained its independence in 1965. With no common culture and no natural resources, Singapore was “not supposed to exist” (to quote the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s first Prime Minister). However, great pains were taken to promote community—we were always encouraged to participate in birthdays, weddings, funerals, and religious celebrations of other races, for example—and to instill a sense of common destiny. I believe that this has been a key factor of Singapore’s success: people worked hard together to build a country that in 50 years has gone from mosquito-infested tropical backwater, to a first world country with a GDP per capita rivaling Norway and Switzerland.

At Hamlin, I see strong parallels that have contributed to its success. We may come from very different backgrounds, but we share a common mission (to “educate girls to meet the challenges of their time”) and espouse the same values of compassion, courage, honesty, respect and responsibility. When Judy Ching asked me to consider joining the team, and I found out that PLAID’s objective is to help weave the many threads of Hamlin families into one community, I jumped at the opportunity to contribute!

3) What does diversity and/or inclusivity mean to you?

To me, the word “diversity” has become overused over the years, and has unfortunately taken on the negative connotations of superficiality and political correctness. Most organizations pay lip service to the pursuit of racial/gender/religious/ socioeconomic diversity, but dig a little deeper and you often find that this is a mere check-the-box approach designed to satisfy regulations and avoid repercussions in the news or social media. Underneath this veneer, however, individuals within these organizations are confused about what they can or cannot say or do, and publicly avoid broaching the subject while inwardly harboring apprehension or nursing grudges.

“Inclusivity”, on the other hand, is a more meaningful goal, but one that requires deeper effort. When my wife and I toured Hamlin three years ago, something that Wanda said during one of the admissions dialogues deeply resonated with us:

“Anyone can go through the motions and claim to embrace diversity, but what does that mean? We are all born different, so by definition any organization is diverse. To me, the true litmus test is one of inclusivity: are we willing to welcome other families into our homes—especially the ones that appear to lead very different lives from us, not just those within our immediate social circle—with open arms, share meals with them and truly connect?”

Since then, we’ve seen firsthand how the school’s commitment to inclusivity is part of what makes Hamlin special. We always want to be able to say “yes” to the question above and do our part to build on this wonderful community!

4) What has been your favorite PLAID experience and why?

My favorite PLAID experience last year was the Lunar New Year event in January. I love food of all varieties and cuisines — a very Singaporean trait — so sampling all the delicious food prepared by Hamlin parents was a real treat! Nobody was paid to cook or bring food to the event; families were just delighted to have the opportunity to share some of their new year’s culinary traditions with the Hamlin community.

As this was the first time we had organized such an event at Hamlin, and it was a relatively last-minute addition to the school calendar, we were quite nervous that only the contributing families would show up that evening. As it turns out, we had over 110 people participate, and some families even coordinated arts & crafts for the girls (calligraphy and lantern making) and helped decorate the West Dining Room to make it more festive.

We hope to be able to make this an annual tradition at Hamlin and celebrate Lunar New Year with even more of you next year!

To learn more about PLAID, please visit: https://www.hamlin.org/page/plaid

 

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