New club focuses on equity, student action
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Despite being in her last quarter of high school, senior Sonal Soni refuses to ignore injustices she witnessed at Free State.
“I faced a lot of harassment, bullying,” Soni said. “It all culminated last semester, but it’s been prevalent throughout my high school career. I was really fed up. I was really sick of white people walking all over me, and I wanted to do something about it.”
In order to battle the prejudice she has received and witnessed, Soni and junior Brittany Swearingen, who has had similar experiences to Soni, have formed the Lawrence Public Schools Equity Club.
Overall, the purpose of the LPS Equity Club is to support marginalized students who have not received the justice they deserved after negative experiences with faculty and students. Their goal is to create a safe space for students who feel they cannot go to their teacher or counselor and to educate students on concepts such as microaggressions according to Soni. The club is open to anyone from any school in the district.
Similar to other clubs that take on topics like discrimination, such as Can We Talk, Gay-Straight Alliance and Young Feminists Club, Equity Club aims to provide a safe space for student discussions. The difference between LPS Equity Club and other clubs is the focus on initiating change.
“If there is a policy that does not adequately address the needs of all students, [the club] wants to investigate that further,” said Tina Mitchell, counselor and club sponsor. “They also want to bring attention to the concerns of students and make for sure they are addressed in policy. I think the biggest thing is making sure the policies and the rules the schools are putting out there are ones that are equitable for all kids.”
At their first meeting on March 28, 10-15 students and a few faculty members discussed topics like goals for the club, positive and negative attributes of supportive teachers and how future experiences of harassment can be handled. Apart from a few interjections from counselor and club sponsor Tina Mitchell, the discussion was student-led.
Junior Grace Porter attended the club meeting in hopes of helping create change throughout the district.
“There have been a lot of problems that have been going on and they’re continually not addressed,” Porter said. “Or if they’re brought to the administration nothing is done, so I think a lot of the students are kind of tired and really want an active change.”
A week later, the club reconvened exclusively for students; teachers and faculty were not permitted.
“A lot of our students came to us and said that they were very uncomfortable voicing and speaking truthfully with the teachers around,” junior club co-president Brittany Swearingen said. “Because in our experiences here, with teachers specifically, teachers are not our allies, no matter what sticker they put on the door.”
Swearingen agreed there was a lack of trust between the club and faculty in attendance.
“Teachers have really proven in showing students their true colors,” Swearingen said. “Their true colors aren’t on our side.”
For Mitchell the decision to exclude teachers won’t be standard practice, but may happen again in the future depending on the needs of students.
“So I have encouraged [club officers] at future meetings, everybody’s welcome,” Mitchell said. “There may be a time in which we need to have just a students only meeting or their may be a time in which we need to have a meeting which is majority staff. But going forward in the future, the message that I’ve sent is that everybody’s welcome.”
Equity Club is currently working with the administration to make suggestions to modify future school-wide Courageous Conversations. Their plan is to provide a basic level of education so students can converse in a more respectful, productive way.
“We just really want to educate people, like ‘Hey, what are micro-agressions?’ We’ll teach you, and then you can perpetuate that knowledge to other students,” Soni said. “That way students of color -and it doesn’t even have to be black kids, [it can be] students who are gay, students who are whatever- can feel safe in their second home.”
The Equity Club meets on Tuesdays. Follow @lpsequityclub for information on meeting locations and events.