STUDENTS | August 6, 2021
I’ve always been a very STEM-oriented student, and because these are typically male-dominated subjects, I’ve participated in quite a few activities in high school where I am the only Black woman there. I’ll never forget participating in the math team and having some of my peers act shocked when I was able to solve a difficult problem.
These experiences have pushed me not only to help address the disparities within STEM fields but to become an advocate for social justice in general. To help combat bias-based harm, I joined the district’s Civil Rights Summer Fellowship.
Even though my school—Walter Payton College Prep—is pretty diverse, I learned about different ways bias-based harm can occur from the other students who were in the fellowship with me. For students who attend high schools with a student body that is largely one race, ignorant comments from outsiders are always a possibility. One girl shared that a substitute teacher had once told her class that they probably all knew how to make tacos really well.
And while comments like those may not seem like a huge deal, they’re kind of like mosquito bites. When you get bitten over and over and over again, you aren’t going to be able to act as if nothing has happened. It can even be really uncomfortable and painful.
These microaggressions often occur because individuals haven’t been educated beyond what they have normalized, so I think one of the best ways to progress is to have conversations with each other. We had many talking circles as part of the fellowship that gave us an opportunity to explore our own identities and learn about the identities of others, and I would love to implement something similar when we return to school later this month.
Participating in discussions is not always an option, and it can be difficult at times to voice your concerns without standing in front of the entire school. I think my generation has shown that social media can be an effective tool to create a sense of community around perceived issues, especially because it allows students to speak up anonymously.
If a student wants to play a part in transforming their school’s culture but is nervous or doesn’t know where to begin, I would recommend building connections with older students or even alumni who are more experienced with the school community and can share a deeper perspective about the changes that students are pushing for. Once again, social media is a way to create those bonds.
I would like to see our school administration hold a panel near the beginning of the school year specifically lifting up the voices of underrepresented students and faculty members. It’s important for school leadership to consistently hear directly from students about their concerns and the resources they need to be successful. If I was a principal, this would help me remember that I am there to serve the school and the school should not be serving me.
I probably won’t end up leading a school one day, but I know that what I’ve learned through the fellowship this summer will remain relevant regardless of the career path that I choose. My interests lie at the intersection of math, social justice, and entertainment, and I could see myself starting my own organization to make STEM more accessible for under-resourced students, especially women of color.
Connecting with students from all around Chicago this summer has certainly given me a well-rounded point of view, a part of me that will only continue to grow as I strengthen my commitment to inclusion in my final year of high school and for many years to come.
Beyond her interest in STEM, rising senior Summer is the captain of Payton’s poms team and is also into gymnastics. The Civil Rights Summer Fellowship was created by the district’s Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP). Learn more about OSP’s other efforts to transform schools here.