Hidden Narratives

As Esther Ujah (U6) walked into assembly one morning last year, something caught her eye. At the base of one of the windows in the Ante Chapel was an inscription, barely visible, written in a delicate cursive hand: ‘Edward Wigzell did all of the work but received no credit.’ A. E. Wigzell was an employee of the studios of Hendra and Harper during the 1950s, who constructed the windows at Wellington based on designs by Hugh Easton. Whether anyone had noticed Wigzell’s plea for recognition before Esther, we do not know, but how many people over the years will have passed by, admired the window, seen the central design, and never noticed the tiny inscription? Edward Wigzell’s words remind us of the basic human need to feel valued; they remind us of the importance of observing, not merely seeing; and they remind us of how different things can appear when we consider an alternative point of view.

Esther’s discovery has inspired our theme for assemblies this term. From Monday, we will be exploring hidden stories, alternative viewpoints, and narratives that ran counter to the dominant narrative of their time. Over the next few weeks, we will touch on Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘dangers of a single story’; in October, during Black History Month, we will hear about ‘Hidden Figures’, the story of black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the 1960s. We will give voice to the women who lived alongside the 1st Duke of Wellington and bring to life the men who fought with him, their names preserved in the fabric of the College, but their stories largely forgotten.

In assembly last week, I spoke about the importance of community, and I asked staff and students to consider the part they could play in making others feel valued. I hope our assemblies this term will encourage us all to reflect: by listening to others, by hearing their story, by seeing things from their point of view, we will celebrate diversity and we will continue to build an inclusive community. In my start-of-term letter, I mentioned three words that form one of our priorities for the year: Kindness, Inclusivity and Respect. To these, I will add another: Empathy.

Empathy is much more than the ability to ‘understand’ or ‘share’ the feelings of others. It is about learning to listen without opinion, without judgement, without blame and, crucially, without our own story.

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