Teens tackle bias in society

Central group sponsors Equity Challenge to combat discriminatory attitudes

What percentage of the day are you with people of your own gender/race/class/age/belief system?

What are the last five books you read or programs you watched?

When traveling through different communities, do you notice different housing patterns or density? Do those differences seem to have any correlation to race or class?

These are a few of the perspective-stirring questions posed by Hinsdale Central's Students Organized for Anti-Racism (SOAR) club as part of their 14-day Equity Challenge. The challenge, which started last week and runs through Oct. 27, is designed to encourage students to examine and expand their understanding of equity, power and privilege.

SOAR co-leader senior Amaryah Chandler said the subject can be uncomfortable but is necessary to confront.

"I'm aware that's it a difficult thing," she said. "I hope for more awareness about this issue. I hope for people to realize that not everything that they say or do is OK."

Participants pledge to keep a spirit of openness and positivity while each day reading, watching or listening to resources offering a new point of view. Students then reflect on their environmental and interactional patterns to complete an Equity Tracking Chart.

This is SOAR's first full year as a Central club, and Chandler said she and her cohorts wanted to start the year off with something engaging. The discovered that their counterparts at Downers Grove North were doing a 21-day equity challenge.

"We thought we could do something similar, just change it up a little bit," she said. "We want them to take what they learned and apply it to their everyday lives."

Billson Rasavongxay, Central social studies department chair and SOAR's faculty sponsor, said the seeds for the group were sown last spring at Central's town hall meeting on race and

social identity.

"They kids felt really great about sharing their experiences. The idea of SOAR came out of that," he said. "I think more and more students became aware of the vast array of different experiences, especially for students of color."

SOAR member and senior Hari Rao said his peers seems receptive to these conversations in light of the national attention on racial injustice.

"I think now a lot of people are more racially aware than ever," Rao said, citing the media attention to the topic. "I think it's really important now to push these ideas out to people."

The challenge is not limited to matters of race. One of the resources suggested is the film "The Peanut Butter Falcon" about a main character with Down Syndrome.

Rasavongxay said the number of students in SOAR has grown from 25 in the spring to as many as 50 now.

"There's definitely been an increase in students wanting to have these type of conversations than before," he said. "I think students are more understanding of each other's experiences and starting to see and be aware of external factors that may be at play in a school setting."

Chandler recalled a disparaging comment made to her by a fellow student that invoked a stereotype of black women she did not appreciate.

"It flt into the category of micro-aggression," she remarked, adding that she subsequently addressed the matter with the student and their teacher. "It's things like this that I want people to learn about, It's why SOAR aims to bring more awareness."

Senior Chigo Ojiako said the call to action that rang out after the police killing of George Floyd needs to continue to ring out.

"We're hoping to bring it back and remind people about being racially aware in our community with this challenge," Ojiako said.

Rasavongxay said while remote learning inhibits in-person meetings, it may also provide more time for students to investigate the resources and complete the challenge. And perhaps extend the challenge to their families and be willing to have some hard conversations.

"We felt this was a nice transition to try to get more people involved in the work that might have to happen," he said. "My biggest hope is that it helps unify the school and the community a little bit more than before," he said. "I think the kids are also aware of the divisiveness that this might bring up. They want to see and understand the individuality of everybody so that everyone feels welcome whatever space they take up in school."

Chandler said her group is confident that progress can be made toward a more inclusive society.

"We're very optimistic a she said.

Those interested in completing an Equity Challenge can visit https://www.debbyirving.com/21-day-challenge for suggestions on readings, podcasts and more and track how the viewpoint presented might affect one's decision-making and interactions with others.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean