OHS Students Strive to Take Down Racism

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SOCA during a club meeting.

Andrea Rachita, Journalist

OHS is lauded for being an accepting and kind community; however, that does not mean that it is immune to discrimination. A recent uptick in homophobic, ableist, and racist behavior has seen responses from the school ranging from official school statements to the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign and, most recently, an anti-racist video made by OHS students.

The video, which called out specific racist incidents that gained traction on social media, was edited by OHS Senior Nevaeh Qiu. During the making of the video, she encountered many difficulties. “We had to make several changes to the video,” she says. “Initially, we wanted to mention the rise in hate speech, but an anonymous staff member had problems with it…other staff members didn’t like that we specifically addressed one situation either. We needed to make changes there as well.” Yet it seems, after all of these changes, some staff members still weren’t satisfied. “I’m angry that some teachers aren’t understanding,” Qiu lamented. “We as a community need to have more discussions about racism, and some teachers didn’t even show the  video.” 

Additionally, along with many other students, Qiu feels that the school is not backing its words with actions. In terms of the event specifically discussed in the video, she says, “the punishment this student would be facing wasn’t even disclosed. This student is a repeat offender; it’s clear restorative isn’t really working. There are even some rumors that the student’s parents weren’t contacted about the issue.” It’s uncertain whether these rumors are true, and as it stands, the discipline the student faced is not confirmed.

Matt Grant, the OHS Principal, has also noticed the recent increase in racist incidents. “There is much more racism and toxicity at the school than there was 5 years ago, both in the nation and in our school,” he says. Thus, he wants to encourage people to keep speaking out, as they did through making the video. “Students have more power than adults. I think the video had a more powerful impact because it was made by students…I appreciate that it holds the whole community accountable.” Of course, it is not only students who have to do all of the heavy lifting. “Administrators and teachers need to enforce the rules for the culture to change. We need to continue messaging, training, and holding discussions. We need to confront hate speech wherever we see it.” According to Mr. Grant, the video brought on a host of helpful discussions throughout classroom environments. Overall, he says, “I’m not okay with okay; as long as we have racism at OHS, we have to tackle it. I really hope that students continue to feel that their voice matters and that they want to speak.”

Ana Talavera, the teacher who acted as a facilitator in the making of the video, says that “The students of Students of Color Association (SOCA) wanted to do something about the hateful language that had been used during multiple events this school year. SOCA felt like the events had not been addressed thoroughly and decided to say something.” The video was initially meant to be released in November, which is why the video primarily focuses on one incident of racism. “As time passed, more incidents occurred and there wasn’t enough time to edit and change the statement. We decided to include the disclaimer at the beginning instead…I wish that we had more time to put together something that helped clarify and give context to the statement,” Talavera explains. 

Talavera says that luckily the video has mostly been met with support. “The majority of people totally supported the statement. Others were confused and wanted more information. There were also those who felt like this was an attack on free speech… SOCA’s goal was to let the school community know that something was being worked on and done to address the problem.”