Ways MHS Staff Can Support their “Diverse” Students

Malden High School is known for its cosmopolitan environment as it is ranked as the most diverse high school in Massachusetts. Although it can certainly be stated that Malden High is wonderfully welcoming of all races, genders, beliefs and identities, I believe there is a major factor of that picture that is overlooked. Within the umbrella concept of diversity are the vast complexities that come with being a person of color in a country founded by subjugation and marginalization of diverse groups; to understand these complexities is to be able to strongly reinforce the ideals of equality and equity in our school. Students undeniably face social stigma outside of the shielded bubble of a diverse school and it is imperative to ensure that this does not become an obstacle they face in school as well. After local and nationwide events that have penetrated Malden which reflect a lack of cultural consideration, ignorance toward feelings felt by minority groups and an inability to become an ally in times of social crisis, it is important to reinstate how our staff can properly walk in their students’ shoes with sensibility as to not step on their feelings and beliefs in the process.

The school has established many safe spaces where students and staff alike can be themselves without suffering from any consequential unease or rejection. Our general progressiveness is commendable and I am not invalidating it by saying that we can do better to expand our philosophy of sustaining an environment that is all-inclusive and further understanding. The smaller amount of racial diversity in the staff compared to the students can result in an incapacity in being able to be empathetic to students who are dealing with issues of social discrimination, whether it is directed toward a particular race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. It is definitely possible for the staff to achieve this and overcome the feeling of “How can I support my students?” when it comes to heavy societal subjects, but it starts with simply understanding. I believe that it is paramount for staff and even certain students endeavor to be cognizant of what adversely affects their community and think of what they can do to alleviate it, not perpetuate it.

Diversity is a beautiful asset of Malden that our community takes profound pride in. We always speak of it in awe as we list solely the positives of diversity; opportunity for cultural exchange, development of open-mindedness, ability to broaden one’s worldview, etc.

Discrimination is a vulnerable subject to have conversations about, but when somebody is talking about something personal in terms of this, they deserve to be purely listened to without interjections. Experiences that are dealt with by particular groups can not be challenged by another group that does not face that experience, so ensure that you respectfully listen to students who reveal this instead of debate with them on the validity of it. Due to the fact that discrimination is experienced differently by everybody, there are varying perspectives of how discrimination manifests in life. A certain perspective can not be discarded as fallacious because you can not personally identify with it; that said, to grasp said perspective requires that you are open to learning about it which can happen if you solely let someone speak. A student at Malden, who is passionate about matters of social justice, reports that in their politically driven history class they do not “feel like it is a welcoming environment” when it comes to their views. This student also reports that several of their peers and teachers of  “don’t have respect for the opinions and the of experiences myself and other students who are people of color,” revealing a troubling pattern of ignorance and arguably indifference toward students that face marginalization.  Listening and understanding go hand in hand; if you don’t listen, you will never understand. If you don’t understand, you will never listen. Although that sounds redundant, it is crucial to note. Ensuring that students can use their voice without disruptive remarks or suggested cessation is apart of ensuring that your classroom is a safe space. Creating an equal environment goes beyond constructing protocol highlighted in a syllabus -- it must be practiced in reality.

Due to the fact that our school embodies the idea of a “melting pot,” we are all inevitably exposed to a plethora of cultures, genders, ethnicities, beliefs, styles and overall individuals. We should not generalize every student of color by believing they all face the same issues and thinking they all come from the same background, but a prevalent commonality is that society views people of color differently.  Understanding how students feel during a “social crisis” as mentioned earlier goes beyond than being able to recognize merely the existence social inequality. It doesn’t stop there. It must be known that social inequality manifests in the lives of the people around you and shaping your perspective to see that clearly will stop you from making the mistake of refuting their struggles. For example, if a student is describing an experience they have had where they have been treated unfairly because of their racial identity, you should not play the devil’s advocate and find explanations for the perpetrator’s discriminatory behavior.

Speaking for this country specifically, race can wrongly define people, consequentially inciting close-minded or simply ignorant people to treat a person according to their preconceived notions of said identity. People refuse to accept that this is a reality for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other minorities which only serves to worsen the problem. If a student brings up a personal incident of this nature, do not think they are being delusional or misunderstanding. For example, many students felt pangs of devastation after Donald Trump’s win of the 2016 election because of all of the scapegoating and aversion directed toward people of color. Some of those (both teachers and students) who could not relate to those feelings seemingly snubbed those who were suffering. “People weren’t willing to ask why people were upset or understand what people were going through, they were just like ‘get over it,’” as another student reports. The passive reaction toward students’ grief embodies the presence of microaggressions in people who fail to empathize with marginalized groups. From racism to sexism to classism, the country is filled with social constructs that allow the privileged to reap the benefits of not being the less privileged. If you are an educator, you can not abandon this truth for being educated on it strengthens not only the depth of your perspective of your students’ “diversity”, but also your role as a supporter to students and to the social progression of this nation.

Freedom of speech is a right given to every member of this country. I do not mean to digress, but often times people warp the ideology of freedom of speech to allow themselves to publicly make bigoted statements but condemn those who choose to speak out against it. We all deserve the access to our voice. A student should not feel judging eyes on them whenever they discuss their views on or experiences with discrimination because they are just as free to state it as others feel they are free to counter it. Although nobody is obligated to necessarily agree with anybody for the sake of dismantling bias (especially as a facilitator), everybody should be able to speak without an antagonistic atmosphere that strives to silence them. Provide students with a safe platform to both voice their discomfort with certain state of affairs in the world and in school.

In general, students should be able to be outspoken in class, but this applies especially to social and political conversations. These conversations are necessary to have because it is in these where one truly learns how social constructs affect people in reality. Authorizing simply freedom of expression will inevitably open the minds of everyone in the room as the difficulty of these topics become increasingly easier and clearer. The overruling headwrap ban was a perfect example of how students can use their rightful platform to create a more equitable and accepting environment at school. If a student feels that they are being targeted because of their identity or if they feel a part of their identity is not being respected, it is an earned merit of theirs to make it known. Doing so will only improve the framework of the school as it becomes more and more of a safe space and we can live up to the expectations of harmony and equality that we set here in Malden.

Malden is special because of diversity. That word is thrown around on a daily basis here because it is the foundation of strength not only in our school but in our country as well. Those who oppose diversity both fear the unknown and reject advancement. We can not make our school a place where that opposition exists. If we are not exactly “well-versed” when it comes to communicating to people that you do not understand, that does not excuse discriminatory behavior especially when you are sitting in a classroom with people of various backgrounds and identities. How can we marvel at our diversity but refuse to respect each other on the basis of misunderstanding what it means to be a minority? If you are reading this article and feel that everything listed above does not apply to you, think again. To say that immensely exploitive and harmful issues such as racism are not present everywhere is unfounded and simply ignorant. It is a sad fact that we are bombarded by oppressive rhetoric and treatment everyday that we have internalized in one way or another. Instead of undermining that actuality, reflect on how that may manifest in our lives and work toward demolishing that. We can be a revolutionary school; in fact, I believe it is our duty to be such. Setting that goal can start by solely recognizing the need to further broaden our perspective of our community and embracing this movement.

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