Students Advocating for Equality plan second demonstration
While many teens are getting creative with ways to enjoy their summer break, one group of Sandy High students is spending their time fighting for racial equity in their school.
Students Advocating for Equality (SAFE) was formed in June by Associated Student Body President Josiah Rothwell, National Honor Society President Molly Izer and senior class student body officer Jake Billard. The first course of action the students took was to draft a petition calling on the Oregon Trail School District to ban the image of the Confederate flag from campuses, implement reeducation as punitive action for use of racial slurs and hate symbols and create elected leadership positions designated for students of color and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Since late June when the petition went live, it has received more than 5,125 signatures and the SAFE group has been involved in multiple meetings with press, school admin and city leaders as well as hosted a protest to demonstrate their call for change.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, July 25, the group will meet at Centennial Plaza, with face masks and signs, to demonstrate again with the help of students and parents from other school districts around the state.
Rothwell has said students he knows at Gresham High School have been surprised to hear of the racial slurs and alleged harassment said to happen at Sandy High. As a school with large populations of Latinx and Black students, those types of incidents are apparently less likely than at Sandy High, where 76% of last year's student body was white.
"We believe that it is important for people of all schools and communities to help us fight for equity in Sandy, because our town is very similar to other small rural towns," Izer said of the upcoming demonstration. "The fight for equality in our school and town is going to be one of the more difficult ones in the state, but it is also one of the most important; change has to be everywhere, not just in the big cities or the more populated towns. Racism happens here every day. We must eradicate it here too."
"I think one of the biggest obstacles to this movement is fear, Rothwell explained. "We don't want to harm the other side. We want to be able to exist in the school."
The petition is still live online, and students encourage as many people — especially those local to the district — to sign and show support in that way whether they can or cannot attend the demonstration.
"We understand some people won't be able to come out," Izer explained. "We encourage them to educate themselves and others around them (in their own spaces)."
"Boost what we're saying," Billard added. "Use your privilege. Whenever you can get an audience, I'd encourage you to please use your medium and help spread our message."
To the students of SAFE, asking to ban the Confederate flag is in line with other types of prohibitive behavior and expression in the school environment, besides being an action to eradicate a known hate symbol.
Both Izer and Rothwell have given anecdotes of times when female students showing their shoulders or midriffs were reprimanded harsher than male students wearing profane or Confederate-clad clothing.
"The school perpetuates racism by conveying the idea to all the girls within the school their body is more offensive than a flag with racist history, culture and thousands of lives in enslavement behind it," Rothwell said. "That's unacceptable. How can we let women grow up in a school that projects that idea?"
Rothwell added that the high school does not seem against banning other things and gave the example that the game of cornhole is forbidden on school grounds because of an association with the game of beer pong and that students allegedly also can't bring glow sticks on school grounds because of an association with rave culture.
Besides the petition and demonstrations, SAFE leaders continue to work to gain an audience with the Oregon Trail School District Board of Directors to discuss the proposed actions of their petition and discuss potential policy changes. The board has to date not made any invitations to include the students in discussion but will host a virtual board workshop at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 30, to discuss policy revisions.
"The frustrating thing is this is something that has to move now," Rothwell said "Racism, sexism, bigotry don't take a break for summer. So, why are we stopping when this is the most important time? The community is calling out, and they're taking a summer break. We feel like we represent a large percentage of our school. We feel we're representing a lot of what they're crying out for."
"We will continue to expect a seat at every table and will not be silent until we get one," Izer added. "Just because we don't have a vote, we do have a voice."
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