The introduction of Lakeside’s diversity, equity and inclusion assemblies have been contentious among students. With comments ranging from “these assemblies are unnecessary” to “they are not enough,” students disagree on a wide variety of the assemblies’ aspects including their effectiveness, cultural burdens, and portrayal of people of color.
Many were divided on the assemblies’ overall message. One sophomore expressed that she was “sick of assemblies that keep painting people of color in a victimized state.” She felt that the problematic “white savior” attitude permeated some of the content in the assemblies, such as when a speaker remarked that whenever a white person sees a microaggression against a person of color, they should step up and say something. However, seven of eleven interviewees who were students of color said they would feel uncomfortable if a white person did this, as it sometimes feels like an unwelcome intrusion. Respondents clarified that white students should not simply ignore microaggressions towards others but should be mindful of the needs of the victim when attempting to help; one remarked: “I wouldn’t want another person interfering with something that I’m dealing with unless I ask them to.”
In addition, some expressed worries about the perceived necessity of discussing sensitive topics like experiences with past racial aggressions. For example, one question during the assembly on January 11th asked advisories to discuss microaggressions which people had seen, experienced, or participated in. While sharing one’s past experiences was not mandatory, members of a freshman advisory noted that spaces would often become “dead silent,” pressuring people to share traumatic experiences. Though the administration can be credited for making sharing optional, further actions could have been taken to remove the “invisible pressure” to share.
Lakesiders also shared regrets about affinity alliance groups not being able to participate as much as they should in school decisions and discussions regarding race. While the school does sometimes contact these groups (like when there are assemblies celebrating major cultural holidays), 77% of students interviewed believe that they should be more involved.
While the administration has not met or collaborated with SALT groups on a large scale, student groups have already been doing so. On Jan. 28, Student Government met with SALT leaders from some affinity groups to discuss the assemblies and how Student Government and SALT could collaborate on other projects for the Lakeside community. During the conversation, most SALT leaders expressed misgivings towards the assemblies; one noted, “The idea behind the assemblies is good; however, I think that some of the issues can be framed in a better light.” She went on to highlight students’ concerns regarding the portrayal of people of color and the issues with inconsistent timing of the DEI assemblies.
A large portion of the meeting was dedicated to figuring out how to engage the student body with issues of implicit bias. Many SALT leaders felt that the assemblies would only be listened to by those who are already willing to listen; those most reluctant to acknowledge the information would be the least likely to listen. To remedy the lack of engagement, leaders suggested that the schedule of the assemblies could be made more predictable.
Discussing the DEI assemblies, leaders also wondered about the role of allyship. While most affinity alliance groups have well-defined roles in Lakeside, the role of LARS (Lakeside Anti-Racist Students) is contentious among students. The student body as a whole cannot agree on whether or not LARS should program its own projects or should instead listen to and aid other SALT groups.
One sophomore felt that rather than meeting amongst themselves, LARS should go to other SALT groups to properly address their concerns. Going to discussions regarding race, LARS could also inform the groups of what anti-racist actions are being taken, so that the SALT groups can provide feedback and suggestions in the moment, rather than in correspondence.
In summary, the steps Lakeside has taken in the past few months have been admirable, and thoughtful suggestions are welcome. The fight against racism is ongoing, and what schools do now influence how it is fought. Lakeside should ensure its students enter the world aware and ready to tackle the once-insurmountable challenges that still lay ahead.