Teenage students share their vision for a better educational environment.
Student representatives from Fenwick, Brother Rice, Nazareth Academy and 22 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago are coming together to address racial inequities. In partnership with DePaul University, students and school advisers from archdiocesan and independently run high schools gathered online last winter in a series of virtual meetings “to identify challenges in their respective schools and potential solutions to achieve racial justice and equity,” reports Joyce Duriga, editor of the Chicago Catholic newspaper. “Students presented their work to Cardinal Cupich on April 16 during an online meeting.”
“The group, comprising eight students and two staff advisers from each participating high school, began meeting online in February to discuss problems and solutions in their schools with the goal of promoting equality,” continued Ms. Duriga. “During the monthly meetings, each school was asked to create a vision for racial justice represented in ‘jam [vision] boards’ with each school developing individual commitments to racial justice and equity ….” The program developed by DePaul is RISE: Catholic Students RISE for Racial Equity. RISE stands for the process of reflection, inquiry, self-awareness and empathy, according to an April 27th Archdiocese news release.
Fenwick participants are members of the DEI Friars, a group of current students, moderated by faculty members, who lead the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the student level. DEI Friars focus on messaging in the school, promotion of DEI, and being a safe place to hear concerns from students and faculty about issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion in the building, according to the school’s DEI Director Raymond Moland ’96. Senior Vivian Nguyen ’21 (Westchester, IL) is one Fenwick student who decided to get involved. She and three of her classmates — Vaughn-Regan Bledsoe (Maywood, IL), Belema Hart (Oak Brook, IL) and Claire Woods (Brookfield, IL) — also are members of the DEI Friars, a student group focused on diversity, equity and inclusion within the school.
Led by the initiative of Ms. Nguyen, who has one younger brother at Fenwick and another brother entering in the fall, this is the student body’s statement:
“Fenwick High School will commit to racial equity by first acknowledging that injustice exists, and then creating a diversely educated and inclusive environment for our students so that we can look at our world through multiple unbiased lenses. By implementing initiatives identified by the Director of DEI, we will further support and focus on the diversity of our students and staff.”
For the Archdiocesan project with the Cardinal, “our students were charged with using the Jamboard as a tool to explain and provide a rationale about the improvements they want to see within Fenwick,” explains Mr. Moland. Jamboard is a digital, interactive whiteboard developed by Google LLC. Here is their breakdown (see above image):
➢ One word that you see throughout our Jamboard is DIVERSITY. We believe that increasing diversity in the student body and within the administration and faculty will help eliminate many issues of injustice we have seen in our school.
➢ We believe that in order for change to happen, we must recognize what the truth is. We have to admit the truth: the truth that we are bound by racism and inequality. We cannot embrace diversity until we understand the truth behind our differences.
➢ The use of HEART and MIND.
➢ Education is one of the most important parts in creating a change. Biases are taught, whether by parents, teachers, peers or the media. Early exposure to diversity and education of racial justice can alter the way a generation sees the world. A change in curriculum at Fenwick through the addition of books by authors of color, a POC [person of color] perspective, and integration of diversity in different subjects will offer the students a new point of view.
➢ Injustice in our school and society extends beyond race. Racism, homophobia, ableism, classism are examples of injustice we see every day. If we do not actively stand against injustice, we are indirectly standing for it. Being passive and doing nothing is just as bad as contributing to the problem. “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” – Alexander Hamilton
➢ We want to see students/teachers of color be able to express themselves freely. A culture day/week might provide us a time and place to allow POC to embrace their cultural differences through clothing, food, music, dance and more.
➢ We want incoming freshmen to feel at home as soon as possible. An outreach program that helps them connect with/shadow POC upperclassmen can be beneficial to their experience at Fenwick High School. Students will be more comfortable knowing that there are people that look like them and care about them in this new environment.