Stuyvesant Hosts Race Forum with Alumni Association

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Issue 17, Volume 110

By Stephy Chen, Jenny Liu, Vedaant Shah, Alec Shafran 

Stuyvesant collaborated with the Alumni Association to host a forum on June 25, discussing race, experiences of racism at Stuyvesant and in the workplace, and methods for combating racial inequality. The event provided a cross-generational opportunity for Stuyvesant alumni and current students to share their experiences, opinions, and questions on how systemic racism and bias manifest and how positive change can start within our own community.

The event was coordinated by Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) Operations and Marketing Manager Rachael Biscocho (’12), SHSAA Chief of Operations Yanjie (’06), SPARK Counselor Angel Colon, and Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram. Opening remarks were made by Principal Eric Contreras, Alumni Association Board President Soo Kim (’93), and Biscocho. They were joined by student panelists Black Students League (BSL) President Gordon Ebanks (‘20), ASPIRA President Bryan Monge Serrano (’20), rising senior and BSL and ASPIRA Vice President Sarai Pridgen, and rising senior and ASPIRA Vice President Melissa Lopez-Hori. The forum also included an alumni panel: Candice Morgan (’00), Jamil Ellis (’95), Emeka Patrick (’98), and Brenda Clark (’76). The event was moderated by Associate Director of College Counseling Jeaurel Wilson.

The panelists first shared their thoughts on the impact of race on their Stuyvesant experience. Though responses were varied, many emphasized the lack of representation of the Black and Latinx community at Stuyvesant. “It’s very ostracizing to be in a space that does not represent you in a million different ways, and I think that feeling of isolation has negatively affected some of my experiences here,” Pridgen said. “There’s a lot of racism that unfortunately goes unchecked.”

Panelists commented on how to participate in conversations regarding race without pitting one group against the other, noting the importance of working together to achieve an overall goal of making education more equitable. “People tend to forget about the past and what leads to the effects that we’re seeing now—which is a lack of resources that students have at a young age that can’t be made up after years and years of a lack of resources,” Serrano said. “Conversations also shouldn’t be about ‘us vs. them,’ but more so about the fact that it’s an equity issue, and it affects everyone.”

Many also pointed to complacency, comfort, and lack of education and conversation as the main contributors to racism within the school community. “There is an uncomfortable racial dynamic just in general that’s not talked about or explored and is just left to fester, unexplained,” Ebanks said. “[The] Black and Hispanics—they’ve been forced to have these conversations with their peers unexpectedly and unwittingly. [But] these conversations [among whites and Asians] need to be had. They need to be had in all spaces, not just spaces devoted to racial equity and racial justice. Anti-racism and unpacking racism in this country [are] all-encompassing.”

In order to combat implicit racism and motivate conversations around race, Stuyvesant has started initiatives against systemic racism. During the spring of 2019, students from BSL and ASPIRA began leading freshman seminars covering the topics of race and racism. These seminars take place once every two weeks during the school year and are guided by a member of the counseling office during freshmen science-frees. The guidance department as well as BSL and ASPIRA hope to further expand the curriculum.

The English department has introduced a new Black Lives in Literature elective for juniors and seniors for the 2020-2021 school year. Furthermore, BSL and ASPIRA created a comprehensive Nine Step Plan for students “discussing how to be an anti-racist, at least within the Stuy community, and what steps […] you need to be taking right now to make sure you’re not a part of the problem,” Pridgen said.

The forum aimed to promote conversations surrounding the racial dynamics within and outside of the school community. “I hope students and alumni take away from the forum that there are real issues around inequality and race in the Stuyvesant community and the U.S. at large,” Ellis said in an e-mail interview. “Systemic racism exists, and the only way to fight it is to proactively work for equality for all.”