Student leaders discuss race issues

By Rebecca Pyun and Hye-Jung Yang
Published: April 2010

As part of a program called Conversations About Race, South students recently participated in discussions in their advisories to collectively explore the issue of racism. To help add insight to the discussions, all students viewed the movie Far From Home about the experience of Weston student Kandice Sumner as a member of the METCO program.

According to chair of the task force Emma Leslie, South is ready for deep reflection on the subject of racism, which is why she made the decision to hold this program at South.

“It began because the articles about METCO published in the Lion’s Roar in the fall sparked a lot of discussion, and it seemed that our school community was ready for some open conversation about METCO and race in general, Leslie said.
The student leaders in charge of the discussions were chosen by their teachers for their confidence and leadership ability. Called Empowering Multicultural Initiatives (EMI) leaders, they spent nearly seven hours at school in preparation for leading the discussions, engaging in ongoing lectures and activities centered around the theme of racism.

“The training took all day, but it was social and fun and all of us had the chance to engage deeply into the conversations we had, sophomore and EMI leader Yun-Hee Seol said. “Its objective was to force [us] to think about some difficult issues and to take a stand for our beliefs.

In order to provide the best environment for stimulating the most thought-provoking discussions possible, the committee in charge of Conversations About Race put considerable thought into its organization of the EMI leaders. According to Leslie, the committee members sought as equal a mix of white students and students of color as possible so that they would be able to pair up a student of color with a white student for the advisory discussions.

The EMI leaders started off their advisories with a chalk-talk, then moved on to open discussion as students became more comfortable sharing their opinions with each other.

“Obviously a forty-five minute discussion isn’t going to change everything¦ [but] by having discussions about race, students learn a lot more about racism and how it still exists and affects people today, junior and EMI leader Celia Kaufer said. “Before any sort of change can occur, we have to identify our problems and acknowledge they exist.

After watching the movie and participating in her advisory’s discussion, sophomore Neha Narula had mixed opinions on the success of the program as a whole.

“I thought it was a good thing to get to see the [movie], but it could have been better if the program told people to acknowledge [one's] skin color and embrace the culture that one has rather than to ignore the color, Narula said.

Junior Jae Rhee shared a similar view toward the program.

“It is a counterproductive process because in order to initiate a conversation, it must be stated that we are initially unequal, Rhee said.

Despite this, Leslie remains optimistic about the future success and benefits of the program.

“In the long term we are hoping to build a corps of students who can speak about issues of race whenever needed, Leslie said. “We see this as the beginning of a schoolwide commitment to discussing issues of race.

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