By Liam Welch
Race is a tricky thing to talk about these days; however, there are systemic problems regarding ethnicity that people of color and other marginalized people still face even sixty years after the Civil Rights Movement. High schoolers, especially, can grow up internalizing these issues and stereotypes and may not voice their opinions on the matters that plague them.
Bailey Tighe, a Walpole High School English teacher, hopes to give a voice to those who feel they should be heard through the club called Students for Equality. Students for Equality (SFE) wishes to create a safe environment for all students to have productive conversations about race inside and outside the school.
“As a staff, we are pretty aggressively white,” Tighe said. “We don’t have any black or brown teachers in notable capacity, and there was no real place for these students to talk about things that matter to them in a way that is meaningful, substantial, and sustained. So I talked to students and we all wanted to get together and have the conversations that are not easy to have in a predominantly white school.”
Tighe sits in her classroom in the English Wing (Photo/ Liam Welch).
This disparity can be intimidating to some, so Tighe hopes that she can facilitate an environment that can allow students to talk about the big issues they face. Microaggressions are one of those big issues as it happens without the slightest thought, but it can hurt as much as an outright condemnation.
“[Microaggressions] are important because they are impactful. Assuming an Asian student is good at math or science promotes the myth of the model minority -- Asians are not inherently better at math or science, so the assumption that they are, removes the individual achievement of that student,” Tighe said. “Denying individual racism by saying things like ‘I’m not a racist, I have black friends’ implies that you are immune to acts of racism because they are not intentional.”
Tighe writes about the issues facing people of color today on her whiteboard (Photo/ Liam Welch).
Microaggressions are something that deeply concern Tighe and the other students in the club, along with the lack of knowledge the general student and faculty body possesses about such an important topic. SFE hopes to do more to spread awareness to the people who know less than what they should and what they can do to prevent them.
“I mean we haven’t really taken the conversation about microaggressions purposefully outside of S4E; however, the more we talk about it in the group, the more the group members are willing and interested in talking about it outside of the group. We are considering a poster series to help educate the wider school community, though,” Tighe said.
In spite of all of the deep and hard hitting issues that SFE talks about, thanks to Tighe, the group hosts many events such as the “A Taste of Culture” luncheon that took place in December in which students could taste a wide variety of foods from around the world and the March Madness basketball tournament. They are also planning an outdoors event that could have kickball or wiffle ball in the Spring so stay tuned or that.
“We just want a safe place where we can all celebrate our differences and how we can come together as a community and have fun,” Tighe said.
Students serve food at the "A Taste of Culture" luncheon (Photo/ Emily Smith).
The fight for equality does not stop at the S4E, however, as the feminist club and Gay-Straight Alliance all worked together to reach a similar goal of equity and acceptance into school society. Events like the luncheon are co-coordinated by these clubs as they all work towards the same fun and safe school environment for all students.
“We call ourselves the Social Justice Avengers because we are all working toward a common good,” said Tighe. “We’re working on developing inclusive language in the school through a pamphlet that the Feminist club shared with us. We all want everyone to feel safe and accepted here, we just have different focuses or that, so I think it’s really important we work together to make that a reality here at Walpole,” Tighe said.
A member of S4E serves another student some food at the Luncheon. Photo/ Emily Smith
Tighe seeks to establish autonomy in support of the discussions and activities of the club, so she tries to facilitate conversation instead of controlling it because she believes that the students deserve that right in a club called Students for Equality.
“I’d rather call it a brave space than a safe space,” said Tighe, “Having conversations about race is not easy to do. Students have to be honest and empathetic which is not always easy in the high school setting, so it is really brave of these students to come and be part of trying to improve the climate of our school for everyone -no matter their race.”