The Harbinger Online

Directing Diversity

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It was Thursday afternoon. East students refreshed their Twitter feed between every passing period, wondering what Pep Club has decided on as the theme for the South game Friday night.

The rival game needed the best theme. When they decided on “South of the Border,” most students understood what it meant: sombreros, mustaches, ponchos. But senior Alexavier Galicia felt it was more than a theme, it was stereotyping.

Now, almost a year later, administration is shutting down that sort of discrimination within the school. They have decided to take a stand and educate the community on diversity.

Principal John McKinney called for a mandatory staff meeting in hopes to educate them. Along with the staff meeting, he arranged the school’s first Diversity Committee Meeting Oct. 19. Students, parents and staff gathered in the library to discuss why they were there, what they see happening at East and what they can do to make it better.

The Diversity Committee aims to create a welcoming environment in the East community by helping everyone appreciate their differences rather than prejudging them.

United in their agreement that the East community needed to be educated on diversity, each attendee was there to start conversation or give examples of their personal experiences about stereotyping.

“I think the people are uneducated and don’t understand our differences,” McKinney said. “We are afraid of what we don’t understand. Our initial reaction is to move away from them. If we accept and understand our differences, we can begin to appreciate them.”

The committee’s first step toward a better community is meetings for the entire East staff. The first meeting took place in mid October and mandated staff attendance. The meeting focused on transgenderism with a panel of students, parents, alumni and UMKC students.

Each panel member wanted to inform the staff about their personal experiences, both good and bad, in high school.

“I was a student at Shawnee Mission South,” social studies teacher David Muhammad said.  “We had a stereotype about East but when I started working here I realized ‘Man, East isn’t everything I thought it was.’”

At both the staff meeting and the committee meeting, people gave pointers to the staff: how to make transgenders feel included, the importance of using correct pronouns and other tips for the staff to feel a personal connection to the issue.

Muhammad co-organized the diversity movement with McKinney. He thought that because of the generational gap between staff and the students, staff needed education on the newer generation. The meeting was an attempt to steer them away from any ignorance they had toward the student’s generation.

“I think [staff] might look over some of the things happening in our classes,” Muhammad said. “We might not know how to bring up touchy subjects. We have to shrivel the ignorance down to be a representation of what we want the school to be.”

This lack of information is what the committee is trying to cancel out. McKinney hopes the diversity movement will educate the community and create empathy. He feels that when someone puts themselves in another person’s place, it will cause them to think twice before saying something rude or offensive.

When the “South of the Border” theme was released to the student body, no one thought much of it. A fun and easy game theme.

What they didn’t realize is that they were characterizing a stereotype. They didn’t think of how a student who was from Mexico might feel. McKinney and Muhammad both thought it created a rude and an inaccurate representation of our school.

McKinney noticed that the PV Post covers East more than other high schools. He believes when it is good news, it is great for the public to know. But when less positive news is published, he feels it doesn’t reflect the majority of the East community.

“I really want to see the goodness of East continue to radiate out,” Muhammad said. “I want to see it really silence the negativity that sometimes makes more noise than it should.”

With the hope to empower the silent supporters, the committee plans to incorporate the different cultures together in the building. They brainstormed ideas about how to make this happen: student led talks, bringing in professionals on diversity and other ideas with the goal of education the community. No ideas have been officially decided, but the committee plans on meeting periodically to plan events.

The first school-wide event regarding diversity is a meeting on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium. Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president Kelly Canova said they plan on discussing not only race, but also different culture, religion, learning and physical disabilities and sexual orientation: just about any kind of diversity there is. There will also be food and raffles.

“We hope for it to be a fun event for the whole school,” Canova said. “We are going to focus on kindness– we feel like everybody could use some kindness and that will encompass [our whole message].”

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