Student equality advocates campaign to educate peers on pronouns, inclusivity
For the past five months, Sandy High student group S.A.F.E. (Students Advocating For Equality) has made reforming their local learning environment to be more inclusive their main mission.
Starting in June, the group created and circulated a petition asking for the Oregon Trail School District to ban the Confederate flag from campuses, create positions of leadership for students of color and students of the LGBTQIA+ community and create a system that would educate rather than traditionally punish those who used hate speech or toted hate symbols (like the Confederate flag) at school.
Now, with districts around Oregon being mandated to ban such hate symbols and implement a system of responding to students who use hate symbols and language in schools, S.A.F.E. has taken up another task: educating their peers on the proper use and importance of people's preferred pronouns through an effort they're calling the Pronoun Project.
Pronouns have been a national talking point in recent years as the LGBTQIA+ community has advocated more adamantly to make non-binary and transgender people feel valued and included. Though many cite proper grammar as a reason for disliking the use of they/them pronouns, these pronouns represent the identity of thousands in the United States who are non-binary or do not identify within the gender binary of male or female.
"Our campaign was founded with the intent of bringing equality and equity to our school on all fronts," said S.A.F.E. co-leader Molly Izer. "We believe that there can be substantial action taken to make LGBTQ+ students and staff feel more welcome and supported and wanted to open an ongoing dialogue on these issues. Often, staff can be unaware of events and attitudes that happen on a student level. In order to better address issues that LGBTQ+ students may face, we want to make sure that they are first given an adequate outlet through which they can express their needs, and a solid foundation that makes them feel safe expressing those needs in the first place."
As school is still in a virtual format in Oregon, the members of S.A.F.E. have been mostly working to campaign for the Pronoun Project via social media, posting educational information to their Instagram account and opening an online conversation on pronouns.
Though a time when in-person conversations are limited might not seem opportune to some for this campaign, S.A.F.E. co-leader Jake Billard would argue to the contrary.
"In the wake of self-isolation and quarantine, we understand that many students recently realized or embraced their LGBTQ+ identities," they said. "And in addition, these students, and many previously out LGBTQ+ students alike, both often face a lack of support at home and at school, which can be daunting to some going through such a challenging time. It's our intention to increase the much-needed support at school for these students, especially during distance learning."
"As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it's important to me (and S.A.F.E) that members of that community feel safe and comfortable within our school system," Brinna Reynoldson added. "The Pronoun Project is an opportunity to normalize sharing pronouns, as well as helping students to understand LGBTQ+ identities. It allows for more and more students to feel welcome and help people feel encouraged to explore their own identities."
Knowing students at large are possibly struggling with understanding or accepting their own identity and that others might want further education on how to be more inclusive has motivated many of the members of S.A.F.E. in this project.
"S.A.F.E. plans to do everything that we can to support the LGBTQ+ community," explained Makayla Bogle. "In doing so, we plan to bring better understanding to LGBTQ+ identities in hopes that we can help to ensure safety and support in social and learning environments.
"On top of this, we plan to promote gender positive language within the community. A big way to improve gender equality is through language, we feel that by emphasizing the need for gender-neutral language we can help to promote real change within our community," she added. "Another goal for the Pronoun Project is to normalize sharing pronouns. Encouraging others to share pronouns is a big step in projecting the importance of pronouns. As the way that we learn continues to change in these odd times, we understand that the LGBTQ+ community may be lacking the support that they need. By achieving our goals for the Pronoun Project we know that we can/are actively working towards a more LGBTQ+ positive culture."
Thus far, the group has reached out to school administrators to get this effort on their radar and work with them to take steps toward making the school more inclusive.
"We have already contacted the school administration as a first step, and I personally believe that they truly do want to help support us in any way that they can, however, there still are barriers that we need to tackle together," Billard explained. "For example, (non-cisgender) students who wish to change their pronouns in the school's class lists or remove their deadnames from attendance sheets need parent permission to do so. The issue comes as many students who wish to be out with their identity at school are not out at home or do not feel supported by their parents in this process. We as students and community members need to show the administrators how crucial this project is in order to secure their confidence in assisting with change."
While S.A.F.E. has launched this new initiative and has ample plans for other efforts to take on in the future, Izer said "this in no way implies that we have deviated from our goals involving racial equity."
"Rather, we hope to expand the bandwidth of our campaign to actively work towards a more equitable environment on all fronts," she explained. "There is no LGBTQ+ equality without racial equality."
"Though it may be far down the line, I do truly hope to see and believe that there will be a cultural change at our school brought on by both the Pronoun Project and many more to come after it," added Billard. "All of this work is so that one day students aren't regularly bullied, harassed, and called slurs just for being LGBTQ+. I acknowledge that it is wishful thinking to believe that it can happen this year and with this class, but I also know that nobody else has really started this conversation here at Sandy. And now, (with us) being here to 'pull up a chair,' as Molly Izer would put it, I have faith in our school, our students, and our future."
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