Stevenson Students for Change

Stevenson students, inspired by recent racial adversities, look for ways to make the school environment more inclusive

Stevenson+Students+for+Change

Humza Qazi, Anika Krishnaswamy, and Malini Pillai

As Student Council President Liana McGhee ’21 scrolled through her Instagram feed, stories of injustice towards people of color popped up everywhere. She couldn’t help but notice the wave of inspiration and purpose that seemed to wash over her and soon found herself reading—devouring— stories, diving deeper into systemic racism. When the confessions of her classmates on Instagram accounts like @blackataeshs started appearing, they only served to further her passion for the matter. 

McGhee began reaching out to friends, student organizations, past teachers, and anyone else she could possibly think of to start having a conversation about what real inclusivity should look like at Stevenson. Before she knew it, she had started a movement of her very own: SHS Clubs for Change. 🎃

SHS Clubs for Change is a student-led initiative consisting of leaders from various Stevenson clubs formed in light of recent events that have brought more attention to the issue of systemic racism. Its main goal is to encourage collaboration in a forum-like environment where students can have their voices heard and come up with creative, easily implementable methods for promoting equity and inclusivity both in and out of the classroom. 

“The first step that we came up with was a forum that would include all clubs coming together to discuss how they can infuse their agendas for this year with goals centered around equity, race, and diversity,” McGhee said. 

Although SHS Clubs for Change started with leaders from just six clubs — Student Council (StuCo), Freshman Mentor Program (FMP), National Honor Society (NHS), Black Association of Stevenson Students (BASS), Fostering Inter-Cultural Respect and Empowerment (FIRE), and Senior Class Board —  it has since expanded and has also started working closely with Dr. LeViis Haney, the school’s new diversity director who has helped make their ideas more concrete. 

“He’s [Dr. Haney] going to be training some Student Council members, myself included, in implementing equity, race and diversity goals in StuCo’s agenda through the club FIRE,” McGhee said. “He’s been present at our meetings, acting as a sounding board, helping us figure out how we can implement the changes we want to see.”

Dr. Marla Israel, who is one of the sponsors for FIRE, also supports SHS Clubs for Change and has proven to be a fundamental part of the work that the organization has done. During her fifth year at SHS, she created FIRE after receiving notices from students of Asian descent who felt that they were being harassed. 

“We needed to know what we were doing well in issues of equity and race and diversity, and what we were doing poorly,” Israel said. “The only way to know that is through student voice.”

In the beginning, Israel believes that she served as more of a mentor for the students in FIRE. However, as time passed, her duties evolved from being a guide for students to simply giving them the platforms and resources they needed to make their voices heard. 

“FIRE began as education [for the members] and then quickly it was me just trying to keep up with the students and getting them what they needed to do the work,” said Israel. “It’s a research-based protocol about how to engage in conversations that are very difficult in ways that allow you to lean in rather than walk away from the conversations.”

While FIRE’s initial mission statement promoted equality and respect among the SHS community, it has been recently revised to include policy change at the school level and provides a safe space for dialogue — something that is also representative of SHS Clubs for Change’s mission. The deaths of several Black Americans such as George Floyd over the summer prompted FIRE to make this change and contributed to the creation of SHS Clubs for Change. 

“The incidents at school, coupled with COVID-19 and the racial unrest in our country has created a perfect storm, and then the young people came in wanting answers,” Israel said. “I hope that we can live up their expectations.”

Stevenson’s Diversity Council has also started working with SHS Clubs for Change in an effort to help address student-reported racial issues happening within the school community. Diversity Council was created with the intention of helping to promote and celebrate people from all cultures, races and ethnicities, aligning well with the goals SHS Clubs for Change had in mind. 

“Our mission is basically to foster intercultural respect and amplify the voices of our student body,” Diversity Council President Sneha Mohan ’21 said. “So we thought it would be perfect to work together to create that kind of change in our school.” 

Representatives from each affinity club congregate in Heard meetings. Heard meeting are gatherings where they work to note problems of racial discrimination going on at school to report to administration. The reports are later followed up with Student Leadership Advisory Council (SLAC) meetings consisting of the same representatives coming back together in order to make decisions that resolve the issues.

During meetings, Diversity Council sponsors—including Ken Latka, Stevenson’s Vice Principal of Operations—take note of the ideas discussed. In particular, Latka reports the different issues of racial discrimination as well as potential solutions created by the students directly to Superintendent Eric Twadell and Principal Troy Gobble for further action. 

“We want to have a forum in which the student voices can actually be heard by the administration and create that liaison between the student body and those who have authority at school,” Mohan said.

Mohan and Diversity Council have been working with several other clubs as well during both meetings to come up with ways to target the problems. They have also been considering new ways to bring more exposure to racial issues outside of the Stevenson community in addition to finding new ways to create more respect between different groups of people. By working with SHS Clubs for Change, they hope to ensure that situations of racial discrimination are addressed properly and are prevented.

“We’re going to have StuCo and Class Board representatives at the HEARD meetings as well, so they’re listening in on the problems and reporting back to their sponsors, and the other clubs they’re reaching out to. It can go the other way too,” Mohan said.

Mohan went on to discuss numerous ideas and events that SHS Clubs for Change have already planned, including having a potential black speaker to talk to SLAC members about issues being faced by the black community, as well as hosting a public screening of a movie about historical black figures followed by a discussion about how the movie is related to the SHS community. Mohan also expressed the vital role that Dr. Haney will play in training both the teachers and other school representatives how to address difficult situations involving racial discrimination. 

McGhee and Mohan are just two of many student leaders trying to advocate for a more inclusive environment in which their peers can thrive. They, and the many other members of SHS Clubs for Change, are working tirelessly to see their plans come to fruition.

“Our main goal was that no student would ever come to school with the fear of being hurt by someone else’s ignorance or intolerance,” McGhee said.