Evie Hidysmith’s thesis on socioeconomics at Urban: “Private schools are unethical. Period.”

Mira Chandriani, Editor in Chief, Print

Evie Hidysmith, Urban’s Pandemic Coordinator and graduate of Urban in the Class of 2017, wrote a senior thesis for Brown University titled “

Kelli Yon

.” Her thesis discusses wealth at Urban and San Francisco private schools in general, questioning how private schools “uphold the capitalist system that allows them to exist, and also work towards its obsolescence.” I spoke to Hidysmith about the goal of her thesis, her decision to work at Urban as the Pandemic Coordinator and what has changed at Urban since she wrote her thesis. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you provide a brief summary of your thesis?
I originally wanted to just write about the experience of lower-income students in private schools in San Francisco because that was an experience that was really close to my heart. The final product deviated from what I had originally intended because through the process of writing, a bigger theme about the way that wealth and progressivism are intertwined at Urban and in San Francisco arose: Urban’s wealth and access to resources often mask our ability to be progressive or radical in any way. Ultimately, the bottom line is that private schools are unethical. Period. And the ways that private schools attempt to be progressive are really performative and are actually undermined by their access to wealth in pretty much every way.

Why did you decide to come back to Urban as a staff member?
It’s something that my friends, family and myself have given me a lot of sh*t for. Originally, I was only supposed to work here eight hours a week as a tutor and that [would] hopefully just get me in the door, because the goal of my thesis was to start a conversation. I happened to quit my other job and then get offered the Pandemic Coordinator job in the same week, and it just sort of happened. Sometimes I regret being here, and sometimes I’m so glad that I’m here. Being at Urban feels good. Every day when I walk through the door, somebody that I love says hello to me. And there’s candy in my office that I give to kids, and they smile and the interactions fill me with joy. And that feeling is what keeps us a part of a system that is causing harm. I feel guilt every day walking through these doors. I think that I’m an actor in a system that is doing harm and an actor in a system that is doing good. And doing the work of trying to grapple with that contradiction is what brought me back here.

How did you decide to go from writing a college thesis in the Nonfiction Writing Honors Program to becoming Urban’s Pandemic Coordinator?
I was an EMT in college for three years, so I took care of a lot of drunk kids, a lot of diabetic professors and broken bones. I was originally going to be a doctor and then I realized that I really didn’t want to do that. I’m really attracted to the idea of being in roles of helping other people. I loved being an EMT and that’s pretty similar to the stuff that I do as Pandemic Coordinator. But at the same time, it’s actually similar to writing a thesis because that was all about just having conversations with kids and talking to them about what they need and how they can get it. So even though it seems really different, a lot of the skills that I’ve built translate more than they look like they would.

Do you think the culture at Urban has changed since you were a student here? How and why?
Yes and no. Some things are exactly the same, which I love. Weird sh*t like the butter on the bulletin board. That is so classic Urban and I love it. At the same time, [when I was an underclassman] there was a lot more emphasis on art. It was cool to be artsy, nobody played sports. The people who did, nobody really liked. Because Urban is a private school, it has to compete in the marketplace. It’s interesting to see that every change at Urban is motivated by money. It’s so crazy to me that the culture between students, the way that students interact with each other in the hallways and the things that students enjoy doing are influenced by the school’s financial need to compete with other private schools. And that makes me sad because I think there’s something lost in that.

Has your perspective on anything you wrote about in your thesis changed now that you have the perspective of an Urban staff member?
I think a lot of my core views about the ways that this place is unethical are the same. And I think I’ve gotten to complicate it by just talking to kids [and adults] more. Every single person I asked the question ‘do you believe in private schools?’ said, ‘no, they shouldn’t exist.’ And so the second question is, ‘why are you here?’ I think that my answer has fleshed out a lot. I understand now much better why people continue walking in the door every day because I get to see the joy that exists here and the fear, honestly, of having to support yourself as an adult. I have a better understanding of having to sacrifice some of your morals for the financial security of working here.

What has been your biggest personal takeaway from writing this thesis?
I think that I have a really big fear of being a bad person. And I think that it’s really hard to realize that a lot of the things that you love might not be good. That’s the biggest thing that I grapple with at Urban every day. What feels right? And what is ethical? And how do I balance the two? There are all these things that we can do that bring us joy that are terrible for the world. When do we need to do them anyway? And when do we need to sacrifice them? Urban is the epitome of that question for me.