Diversify Our Narrative sparks community conversations

Monthly discussions provide a space for students and teachers across the district to share their experiences with discrimination

Diversify Our Narrative RJUHSD holds community conversations the first Friday of every month; for more details, check out their Instagram page @diversifyournarrativerjuhsd. (Diversify Our Narrative RJUHSD Instagram)

Diversify Our Narrative (DON) is a student-led organization that advocates for a more diverse curriculum and inclusive district. The RJUHSD Diversify Our Narrative chapter is now connecting with their audience through monthly virtual, community meetings, consisting of presentations by the student organizers and an open discussion for any participants, including students and district faculty, to share their thoughts and experiences. The RJUHSD’s last DON meeting’s presentation centered around microaggressions, which lead organizer Kaneesha Goyal explained are, “the everyday slights and put downs that marginalized people have to deal with in their day to day interactions.”

“And (microagressions) are typically casual, and not with malicious intent,” Goyal said. “They do tend to arise more out of implicit biases, than an exquisite desire to make other people feel lesser, but they still do perpetuate stereotypes about different groups, and they’re often disguised as a compliment.” 

Goyal and the other DON organizers also encouraged participants to take an implicit biases test.

“You are probably going to get some answers that you do not like very much,” she said. “Instead of getting defensive about it, it’s important that you take that as a learning moment, and recognize what you can do to fix some of those issues. Whether that be consuming more content that is about the experiences of that group, or men are unlearning some of those stereotypes. Then when somebody does call you out about microaggressions, make sure that you don’t get defensive, because typically when somebody does perpetuate microaggressions, they don’t have a very ill intent behind it. But it’s not about your intent. It’s about how your words are actually being perceived. So accept your mistakes with grace and just try to work on it in the future.”

Students who attended the event also brought up personal accounts and their own unjust experiences with various types of discrimination including racism, sexism, ableism and transphobia during the discussion.

 

Kaneesha Goyal: The Lead Organizer

Goyal is the lead organizer of RJUHSD’s Diversify Our Narrative chapter and a rising senior at Oakmont High. As the lead organizer, Goyal moderates the community conversations and guides the topic discussions. 

“When (the conversation is) slowing down I just move on to the next topic,” Goyal said. “Last (meeting) for the first part, people were talking about race, but then the conversation (became) dull, so I just said ‘can we move on to ableism?’”

However, Goyal emphasized that although she helps lead the conversation, it is the participants and attendees that ultimately shape it. 

“(The conversation) is very much what (the participants) want to talk about, it’s led completely by the participants, and not by any of the moderators,” Goyal said.

According to Goyal, there were a couple of different motivations and reasons for initiating these community conversations. 

“One of the major (reasons) was that people need a space to just vent sometimes,” she said.  “(The event) was acting like a healing circle for people all over the district. First of all, we wanted to hear what people’s personal experiences were so we knew how we could work better for our goals. We also wanted people to have a space where they (could) make their voices heard, because something that we’ve been hearing time and time again as we move (through) our work is that students don’t feel like their voices are being heard enough in the district currently. This is a space where that can happen and there was no space like this before. So even though we are people from all across the district, we do have very similar experiences.” 

Goyal said another motivation for starting conversations within the community was the need to raise awareness on the injustices happening in the district that people may not have been aware of. 

“For example, when we did the testimonials, something that we heard a lot was, ‘Oh, I didn’t even realize this was happening in our district,’’’ Goyal said. “And so this way people can come in and learn about other’s experiences and that’s why we also have the presentation at the beginning of every conversation, so people can learn more about different topics.”

And so this way people can come in and learn about other’s experiences and that’s why we also have the presentation at the beginning of every conversation, so people can learn more about different topics.”

— Kaneesha Goyal

With this, Diversity Our Narrative’s overarching goal has been to build a more equitable and inclusive district for every student.  

“To (accomplish this goal), we have a two fold approach,” Goyal said. “One is by looking at the actual student body and the student culture. And (there are) these community conversations (which are) trying to change the way that we look at and approach these conversations and to work with them.”

Moving forward, Goyal and other members of DON are continuing to strive for a more diverse curriculum, through these community conversations and other efforts. 

“We plan on doing one of these (community meetings) every single month, typically at the beginning of the month on a Friday,” Goyal said. “And we’re just going to keep on having them for as long as we think we need them.”

 

John Thomas: The Teacher Attendee

GBHS health teacher John Thomas attended the last DON community meeting to learn, be part of and make progress in expanding his own classroom through the discussion. As a teacher, Thomas feels he has a duty to create a safe and inclusive learning environment.

“I wanted to go because I teach health, and I know that suicide rates of certain subgroups in our society are double to four times higher than the general public, and I believe bullying and discrimination is a big part of that,” Thomas said.

Thomas feels the discussion is necessary to work towards healthy resolutions for GBHS. 

“If we don’t go to the discussion, then we don’t hear what’s being said and that’s already kind of happened,” Thomas said. “Things get taken out of context or (are) not fully explained. And so, I feel if I go and I’m part of the discussion, then I can hear what was said to maybe address some of the things if they’re taken out of context or misconstrued…I feel we can make progress and we haven’t had the discussions enough.”

I feel if I go and I’m part of the discussion, then I can hear what was said to maybe address some of the things if they’re taken out of context or misconstrued…I feel we can make progress and we haven’t had the discussions enough.”

— John Thomas

Thomas has also encouraged his students to go the community conversations, giving extra credit to those who attended and wrote a paragraph sharing their thoughts. Moving forward, Thomas plans to attend future meetings as well and will continue encouraging his students to attend. 

“I want (my students) to get extra credit if they’re willing to have an open mind and listen to a dialogue. Some (of my students that attended) even were part of (the discussion),” Thomas said. “And…if I can use (extra credit) as an incentive in a small way for them to expand their thinking and maybe build some new connections and…new understanding, I feel like that’s how we make the world a better place.”

Out of Thomas’ 90 students, 20 attended—most of whom Thomas said were there for the extra credit. However, Thomas expressed that most of his students who attended the meeting shared positive thoughts and left feeling encouraged. 

“They felt they were either educated about something they didn’t know about or they felt supported if they already knew about it, and they got to hear other people talk about a similar problem,” Thomas said.

Ultimately, he stressed the importance of listening and understanding what young people have to say and encouraged others to also be part of the conversation. 

“We can all get stuck in our own thinking, in our own beliefs, and not go to the conversation…or we can be a part of it,” Thomas said.

Tiburon Batriedo-The Main Organizer

Junior Tiburon Batriedo, who became a leader in DON a few months ago, is one of the two main Diversify Our Narrative organizers from GBHS.

“I think there’s two main ways to bring about change…one is more of that economic big level change, but the other part…is individual change and that’s the individual actions (or) beliefs of a community…and of yourself as an individual,” Batriedo said. “So no matter how much economic policy is passed…a lot of times it’s not going to change individual behavior (with) things such as racism. Including people’s voices and experiences into society and to make people more aware of perspectives, outside of their own, are a little bit more individual based insights.”

Batriedo sees Diversify Our Narrative as an avenue targeting social change to battle racism, which is one of the core reasons he decided to get involved.

“(A) main reason I joined is there are experiences we all face in terms of the people that we meet, the experiences we have and the education that we face, which I think could be fixed at a school (level and) at a personal or district level too,” Batriedo said.

(A) main reason I joined is there are experiences we all face in terms of the people that we meet, the experiences we have and the education that we face, which I think could be fixed at a school (level and) at a personal or district level too.”

— Tiburon Batriedo

Batriedo, who is also a member of the indigenous community, has faced microaggressions himself. He empathizes with the experiences of other minorities, and through his ongoing work with DON, he hopes to create a sense of community to connect all people.

“(I hope to create) a space for (minorities all across the district) to come together and share their experiences, tell our stories and also heal together,” Batriedo said.

Batriedo hopes to include as many people as possible in the conversation. 

“We’re open to anyone (and) everyone,” Batriedo said. “Whether you’re a minority, whether you’ve faced discrimination, whether you’re just interested in listening to other people’s stories, (or) whether (you are) from this school or not.”  

In addition, Batriedo hopes to have more faculty involved in future meetings. 

“We want (the meetings) to be…student oriented and student focused, but we want faculty to be able to acknowledge what the students are going through, because I think oftentimes it’s hard for the faculty to know what’s going on inside the school,” Batriedo said “I think the community conversations are a good way to get that input and for the faculty to really hear, not just the academic side of things,but the actual experiences of the people they’re teaching on campus. That’s important to fostering, not just an educational environment, but an environment for everyone and an environment where people feel comfortable to learn and feel represented and empowered.”

He wants those that do attend the meetings to ultimately take away the sheer diversity in the opinions, perspectives and experiences from students across the district. 

“(I want people to take away) how we all go through our unique experiences but at the same time how we’re all connected in what we face,” Batriedo said. “We’re definitely a diverse community, and that’s often not acknowledged enough but at the same time, we’re all human beings.”

 

Currently, Batriedo and the other GBHS organizers hold weekly meetings to discuss the agenda for the English district leads and the principal’s various counselors board. They are also working to set up community conversations and establish student equity teams soon at GBHS. DON plans to hold community meetings the first Friday of every month and encourages everyone to join.

 

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