How are we doing in terms of diversity?
Aidan: It's a lot less diverse than we thought it was pre-SDLC. Because that's when you realize...
Maya: ...what's missing and what needs improvement.
Aidan: Since it's an international school, all of us
assume that we're pretty diverse and understand one
another's cultures; but when you hear what other people
hear in the hallways, it surprises you. After going to
SDLC, you actually realize that what's being said is not
okay—that there's a lot more progress that we can make.
Alex: You hear people use slurs just casually without
realizing the significance behind them. You are acutely
aware of the way people talk about certain groups. The
attitudes they have just in their tone sometimes. And
if you confront someone about it, they would get very
defensive without being able to acknowledge everyone's
part in the institution of these issues.
Aidan: We've been throwing around the word "diversi-ty" a lot. What we mainly mean is acceptance of differences that everybody has. Our school does have a lot of
people from different cultures. But acceptance between
the cultures is what we're trying to improve.
Alex: I came out during SDLC. It was clear when I was
there that it was an environment where I'd feel safe.
[After SDLC] I came out in the diversity assembly at
school. Before, what would happen—the tiny things, the
small reactions—made me uncomfortable, not ready to
do it. I'd never been out before! At SDLC I realized what
it was like to have that kind of acceptance. I realized just
how good things could be.
Maya: Aidan and I have been at this school since Kindergarten and Pre-K. We've grown up at this school, and
we've learned to assimilate, so things didn't affect me
as much. I've heard racial slurs said to me throughout
my life here. Or, "You're not black, you're not Chinese."
I would just laugh it off, thinking, They're just joking,
they're my friends. We go to French American. I know
they're racially aware; they're international students. But
after SDLC, you gain more of an awareness about the
school and how things that people say do affect you and
end up hurting you in the long run. SDLC was an eye
opener for things that are right or wrong.
Aidan: For Maya and me, this school is all that we were
accustomed to. Once you actually get experience, you
see what is okay and what isn't.
Olivier: Before International, I grew up with the same
type of thing, being numb to stuff that would be said
because you get used to it over time. After SDLC, you
re-evaluate everything that you've learned. It's hard to
come back and still have that numb feeling because now
you know so much more.
What's the role of allies?
Maya: I think allies are scared to speak up. They think
that because they're not part of that group or haven't
experienced what the group has felt, they can't help or
contribute, but you really can. It does make a difference
to have allies. You do make a difference speaking up for
[the group] and backing them up. You can still be helpful
even though you don't share the same upbringing.
Aidan: I see allies like a megaphone—they amplify
without trying to impose their own view on the topic.
They help get the word out.
Alex: Another important thing is dealing with micro-aggressions. When you hear someone using a slur, you
feel like you should call people out. But it's really hard
to say, "You shouldn't use this word because this is the
weight it carries." It's suddenly you against that person
and who they're with. Even if their friends aren't actively
defending them, they're on their side.
One of the main roles of allies in situations like that is
to speak up, and not just stand passively by. It's very difficult when you put all the responsibility on the marginalized group. On top of being oppressed in society, they
also now are single-handedly responsible for calling out
all these things.
How do you see next year unfolding?
Alex: We're hoping to have regular assemblies, and
diversity meetings where we pick a topic and have an
open forum for discussion.
Maya: Just recently we went to Mr. Cohen with a plan
to mirror SDLC within San Francisco private schools. We
reached out to University, Lick Wilmerding and Bay and
talked to them about holding an event where we could
talk about growing up in San Francisco. We got a lot of
interest from the other schools, so that's one of the big
things we'll try to get done in the 2016-17 school year.
LA LETTRE SEPTEMBER 2016 | 53
From left: Olivier, Alex, Aidan, and Maya.