Students from about 40 area schools discussed probing questions on race, diversity and discrimination on Feb. 6 during the 9th annual DFW Student Council Leadership Forum – Race to End Racism hosted by the Highland Park High School Student Council.
“Discrimination is such a big thing in our world today,” said HPHS senior Courtney Wilson, the student council’s executive communications chair. “We’re just trying to … pull people together.”
During the forum, students heard from Ken Nwadike Jr., a peace activist who founded the Free Hugs Project in response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
“Don’t rob yourselves of real connection, of real friendship, just because you feel like ‘oh, they’re different than me, or they’re the others,’” he told students. “There’s so much that we can benefit from learning what other people are listening to, what their favorite foods are, what their favorite things to do to pass time, there’s so much that we can learn from that.”
Students broke into small groups after Nwadike’s speech to reflect on questions including “what assumptions are at the core of racism?” and “How does the lens of race shape and affect our understanding and actions?”
HPHS sophomore Cate Young and the students at her table from a variety of schools grappled with issues including the definition of racism, the roots of racial tension, and diversity at their schools.
“History plays a big part” in the assumptions at the core of racism, said New Tech High @ Coppell student Pardhiv Pamulapati. “Because your race has done this in the past, we’re going to assume that you also did this. I think that’s not the correct way of thinking because the generations are changing and that’s not how it is anymore. I think that should change. And, if that changes, a lot of things can change.”
“Looking at our schools and our communities, what do you think are some ways that we can combat those assumptions and stereotypes through educational initiatives?” Young asked the group toward the end of their discussion.
“The system is kind of made for you to go to school, learn, tests and do it all over again,” said Duntae Duffey, a senior at North Mesquite High School. “We have to change the system to match modern society. They’re still teaching us the things that people needed to know back then, and we’re not living in the same way.”
“People skills, soft skills, all those skills that are not taught in high school, I think they should be taught because those are what’s going to help you in the real world,” Pamulapati said.
HPHS Student Council Sponsor John Hinton said the students would continue the day by brainstorming ways they could combat the issues they identified in positive ways. HPHS has carried out some of the students’ ideas in the past, including through a school swap with Roosevelt High School.
Hinton said the students’ discussion set an example for adults. “These youth are coming together and they’re sitting at tables with students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, a very diverse group of students, and they are handling a very tough topic, and they are respecting one another, they’re being kind to one another, they’re listening to each other and learning from each other,” he said. “And I think that’s a huge lesson to all of us.”