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The Voice

Diversity

The Voice Staff

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Diversity is a word thrown around a lot, and here in the Bay Area, most people would agree that our mix of different ethnicities, genders, and religions is what makes us so strong.

The same is true for Pres–while we are often stereotyped as a “rich white girl school,” in fact Pres is quite racially diverse, with a mix of 42% Caucasian, 15% Hispanic, 9% Indian, 6% Vietnamese, 5% multiracial, and 10% representing other ethnicities.

As for the rich girl thing, certainly, our tuition requires that families have higher incomes than most, but 19% of our students receive some form of financial aid. We’re even pretty diverse for a Catholic school, with only 64% of the student body identifying as Catholic.

Finally, in terms of our LGBTQ+ population, the school’s Gay-Straight Community recently had to switch to a larger meeting space because the number of students identifying as part of the community has grown so rapidly in recent years.

So it’s safe to say that we’ve got a pretty diverse student body. And while our teachers do their best to be inclusive and sensitive to all of us, sometimes they fall short.

With that in mind, the Student Development Day next March will focus on diversity and the issues and challenges our school community and national community face. To prepare for that important day, Pres teachers will be attending a Diversity Workshop on October 30 to train them in how to effectively facilitate conversations with our student body.

“We want to be sure that faculty are ready to handle these conversations and ensure they are open, honest, and safe for all of our students,” said Vice Principal of Student Activities Tim Case. “That said, there is no question the benefits this training provides beyond Student Development Day.  One of the primary points of emphasis in the training is being aware of the impact and intent of all our communications and actions with our diverse student body to ensure we are building and strengthening the community at all times.”  

To ensure that student voices were heard during this upcoming in-service on diversity, The Voice sent out a survey to students on October 3, asking them for their impressions of how teachers handle racial, economic, LGBTQ+, and religious diversity. The survey asked for free-form responses and should not be considered statistically valid; nevertheless, the responses are informative.

In terms of religious diversity, the students who responded generally voiced understanding that they attend a Catholic school and so they realize that they will be learning about the Catholic faith. However, one freshman, who asked to be referred to as RR, suggested, “One thing that the religion teachers at Pres can do is go a bit slower; we know most kids are Catholic, but making sure that everyone, even non-Catholics, understands the material is very important!”  

A junior who wished to remain anonymous said, “I really appreciate when religion teachers or students leading prayer will say ‘If it’s in your faith, do the sign of the cross.’ It makes me feel more included and recognizes that not everyone is a Catholic.”

In terms of racial and ethnic diversity, students didn’t have a lot of feedback, which some may consider surprising given that 80 percent of the Pres faculty is white. Several noted that they feel the faculty are very respectful, which they appreciate.

However, Junior Pilar Mellon-Reyes suggested that teachers try listening more than speaking regarding issues of race: “When speaking about race, if a student of the race in question has something they would like to add or correct, the teacher should respectfully let them do so without feeling the need to chime in about what they may think they know, specifically if they are not of that ethnicity.”

Other students suggested that not making assumptions is something Pres teachers can continue to work on. “Pres teachers who are not of color often assume how our households work, despite the differences in culture,” said a senior, who wished to remain anonymous. “I would appreciate if they would acknowledge that we did not all grow up the same.”

Two students made similar comments about teachers’ assumptions regarding their households, though not specifically related to racial diversity. Senior Ryann McManus said, “I have two moms and sometimes teachers will say things like ‘think about your dad’ or something to this effect, and I just wish teachers wouldn’t just assume that everyone comes from a ‘traditional’ family. I think the same goes just in general for others who have maybe lost one or both parents.”  

Economic diversity is another area that students would like teachers to be a little more aware of. Sophomore Sophia Funk receives financial aid and said in her survey that she appreciated both receiving aid and that many of her teachers respect her situation. However, she added,“I do not have all the same privileges as my middle-to-upper-middle class peers. Going to university is still a question for me–who will watch my siblings? Who will care for my parents? How will I pay for it?”

She continued,  “Also, many teachers don’t realize that not all of us have bottomless wallets. It sometimes feels like I’m being shamed for not supporting a drive, or a bake sale fundraiser, or even for not participating in an extracurricular. I once got in trouble for not turning in $20 (for homeroom, I think) when what had happened was my parents didn’t have any money.”

In contrast, senior Emily Barneond, who also receives financial aid,  recalled a moment of connection with a faculty member who seemed to understand her situation: “Last year, I saw one of my teachers at an event that I worked on a Saturday afternoon. She walked over to me to say hi and the next time that I saw her in class she thanked me personally for working the event when she knew that it was CRP season and that time on a Saturday is precious. I appreciated how she recognized the work that I dedicate towards my scholarship and respected me more because of it.”

Finally, given the growing visibility and activism of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, it should come as no surprise that our own students are becoming more vocal about the changes they would like to see at Pres. Indeed, the greatest number of responses to the survey were from students who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Perhaps the most common response among these respondents was their desire for teachers to understand the diversity within their own community. “I want them (the teachers) to not assume anything about a person,” said a junior who wished to remain anonymous. “Even though this is an all-girls school there are people here who identify as boys or non-binary and don’t feel comfortable using she or her pronouns.”

This student applauded the teachers, specifically within the science department, for sending out a form asking about gender identity and preferred pronouns. Other teachers, such as social studies teacher Andrea Duwel, have also decided to send out questionnaires. “I really appreciate that so much,” said the junior. “It creates less awkward tension.”

A junior who also wished to remain anonymous agreed: “As a gay person I have zero interest in dating men. I will also refer to myself as gay because that is what I prefer. Some prefer lesbians. Gay is an umbrella term. People have their own labels, and pronouns, and names that will change. If they ask you to use that name or pronoun please use it. These things are more important to us than you know.”

 

As our teachers learn more about how to facilitate these challenging conversations, students can help by communicating openly to teachers, listening, and being patient as the faculty tries to navigate our rapidly changing school environment.

For more information about the organization that will be running the diversity seminar for faculty on October 30, please visit http://www.stirfryseminars.com/ or contact Mr. Case at [email protected]

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The School Newspaper of Presentation High School.
Diversity