Does a “Race Issue” Exist at Stuyvesant?

We reached out to our fellow students to see how race affects their experiences at Stuyvesant. The responses stand testament to the vast diversity at Stuyvesant, both in terms of race and in terms of experience.

Leighton Blackwood, senior

I never realized what “one percent black” meant until my first weeks at Stuy. I had heard a few stories about the surprising demographics of Stuy from middle school friends, but numbers are one thing. There’s something about jumping from a middle school that was 92 percent black in a 90 percent black neighborhood to a school where you could go for hours without seeing another black students that numbers just can’t express. I felt like I was the most conspicuous person in Stuy, but at the same time I felt completely alone. I was a pretty shy person at the time, and I was honestly afraid of rejection. After 14 years surrounded by only black culture I really didn’t know what to expect, and for my first few days at Stuy, I waited with bated breath for a racist incident or to be rejected.

Thankfully, I didn’t experience the rejection or blatant racism that I was waiting for. I was surprised to receive the complete opposite from my first friends here: a group of seniors who went out of their way to meet the giant freshman sitting alone in the corner of the cafeteria. They helped me overcome much of my initial loneliness and discomfort, and thankfully most of my experiences at Stuy have been as positive the ones that I have shared with them. However, my overall experience as a minority here has been far from perfect.  

I still vividly remember when during lunch later in the year, a fellow freshman came to the table that I was sitting at to request change for a $5 bill. I had 5 ones in my wallet, and I offered to exchange them with her. I pulled out my money with one hand and reached out to take her bill with the other, but she pulled her bill back slightly, and seemed a bit hesitant. When I asked her why she looked nervous, she apologized, explaining that her parents had taught her to never trust black people. We’re friends now, and I hold no hard feelings against her, but at the time, I had never felt so humiliated in my life.

Throughout my years here, I have experienced many microaggressions, most from people saying, “you’re not black” or, “you’re the ‘whitest’ black person,” or for one reason or another. On several occasions, I have been reminded of the negative stereotypes surrounding my race through comments from others such as “I don’t know if her mother would approve” (referring to my romantic interests in an Asian peer).

However, my positive experiences here as a student have outweighed my negative experiences as a minority. I have made many amazing friends here, and I have interacted with people from many different cultures – an experience that I would have missed if I had stayed within the bubble of my own community. My 3.5 years have been amazing, and if I had the choice to do this all again, I would still choose Stuy. I just hope that one day, the demographics of Stuy can become more balanced to reflect the amazing diversity of our city.

Jane Rhee, sophomore

A race issue at Stuyvesant exists if you deny that it does. We go to school in this alternate world where the minority becomes the majority for seven and a half hours every day. But I find no comfort in being surrounded by peers whose skin color matches mine.

As a part of this often nameless, silent body of Asian-Americans, I can either accept the stereotypes that are fed to me or to consciously fight back. I need to raise my hand more often, love the humanities, and have an opinion in politics. I need to tell my friends that I’m not good at math or that I don’t enjoy playing the violin. Some of these are true while others aren’t, but unless I categorize myself as “different,” I become just another Asian passively accepting the status quo.

Carmen Benitez, junior

Being an ethnic minority in Stuyvesant isn’t something that you notice a lot of the time, at least that’s how I feel. Most of the time I don’t notice any difference between me and my friends, but there are moments where I am reminded that I didn’t grow up in America, I grew up in Australia. It’s small moments like on Veterans Day when I felt the need to post “Lest we forget” on Facebook and wear a red poppy because that’s what people in Commonwealth countries do for what we call Remembrance Day.

Being an ethnic minority at Stuy is something you forget most of the time until something small reminds you that you’re just a little bit different. For me, most of the time it’s the sudden laughter of friends when I’m speaking because I’ve pronounced a word differently from them. I don’t feel like it sets me apart in a bad way, it just makes me a little different, it means I bring something different to the table.

Anonymous, sophomore

Being Filipino isn’t exactly anything new to me, it’s been like that for my entire life. In Stuy, though, it’s much harder to even find one other Filipino, as opposed to finding 3-4 in middle school, and already knowing a good number of them. It’s not that bad, I love getting to meet other people, but there’s always that awkward moment when I want to make a cultural reference but nobody really would ever get it, or be able to 100 percent relate or understand. Not to mention it’d be easier not to have to repeat the pronunciation of Tagalog, Filipino, or Pilipino (there’s a difference, by the way) words or names. While yeah, I love getting to introduce others to the culture and all that, it’d just be nice to be understood as completely as if I was talking entirely in English about literally anything in American pop culture.

Samantha Adrianzen, sophomore

I identify as Hispanic, or a Latina-American. My experiences at Stuyvesant as part of a minority group have been mixed, but for the most part, positive. I actually never let my ethnicity affect the way I think people see me. Although sometimes I do feel that other students (particularly white supremacists) are biased against me, I tried to be friendly with them and they literally ignored me or frowned at me. But then I just get over myself and talk with other people. Thankfully I haven’t met any teachers who made it obvious that they were biased against me because of my ethnicity, and I hope I never encounter them. However, most people treat me with the respect that I deserve. Another cool thing is that a lot of people ask me to help them with their Spanish homework, which can be quite nice! I feel like a great contribution to my friends. Overall, I feel relatively normal and okay to be a minority at Stuy, however it does get awkward when I chat with white supremacist folk. I definitely think there should be more diversity at Stuy, but I mean, it’s not something that I’m extremely, extremely, super passionate about.

Nten Nyiam, sophomore

As an African American (minority) student at Stuyvesant High School, it can be difficult to accept that I am visibly different from a majority of my peers. In fact, when I first came to the school I was intimidated by the lack of students that were similar to me, almost to the point of alienation. However, tolerant peers and a positive environment quickly changed that, as my teachers and peers never placed an emphasis on my ethnicity. This made assimilation into the Stuyvesant community easy and led to me placing less of an emphasis on my race and how it makes me different. I never felt uncomfortable about my race, nor have I experienced overt racism, and there are few to no areas in which my race impacts me at school. Overall, Stuyvesant’s wonderful community has shaped my experience. And I look forward to the rest of my high school experience here.

Layla Ashe, sophomore

Going into Stuyvesant as a wide eyed, bushy tailed freshman, I was not intimidated by the massively dominant Asian population, despite the fact that I was—for the first time since elementary school—going to be a minority. I recall my fellow middle school classmates jeering at me to “represent,” when the news of my acceptance to the esteemed high school reached them. Now, as a forlorn, haggard sophomore, I regretfully acknowledge that my initial optimism was a little misguided. Let me be clear: Stuyvesant is filled with some of the brightest, sweetest youths I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. But the product of having a population dominated by one ethnicity is that the environment itself tends to become culturally homogenous. Most students are from the same cookie-cutter Asian families (parents with strict standards, always being sent to prep school, etc). My upbringing was much more casual, with my decision to attend Stuyvesant being my own, and not that of some overbearing parent, and thus, by default, I already have barriers isolating me from the general community. It’s not that I haven’t been able to make friends here, but the environment cultivated in Stuyvesant is a far cry from that of say, my middle school. There, there was a rich blend of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, etc. Human beings come in many different flavors, and I’m grateful that I was able to experience that for a small period of my education (I was a minority in my elementary school as well). Still, although I admit it is a bit lonely being a minority, I’m also in a strange way grateful that I’m not particularly rooted in any culture or community. Yes, technically I’m half Ethiopian and half white, but I’ve had people tell me here that I don’t fit into any particular racial category, and there’s a reason for that. As the New York Times put it, “race is just a social structure.” They’re just labels that we use to satisfy the human desire to divide people into different social categories. How do you define a black person? Or a Jewish person? Our perception of what distinguishes these ethnically and social groups has constantly changed over the years; we just don’t realize it. I see this reflected in myself, because although I’m half Ethiopian, my family and friends claim that the way I act is perceived more as “Asian” than “Black” (what can I say? I love my anime). My cultural ambiguity is a result of the fact that I borrow from so many different cultures, ESPECIALLY the Asian community now that I attend Stuyvesant, and while this is one of the reasons why certain members of my family were intimidated by this school, I honestly don’t find myself caring at this point. My racial identity is, and always has been, fluid (as I think it is for everyone) and the kindness and intelligence of the kids in this school has been more than enough to overstep any pre existing “racial boundaries.”

Katherine Sanchez, sophomore

I had one particular experience last year as a freshman that will likely continue to linger in my mind as much as I’ve tried to push it aside, especially in the years to come. In my first month at Stuy, an upperclassman asked me where I was from giddily, playing with the ends of my curly hair between her forefinger and thumb. I responded eagerly and, without a tinge of hesitation, said, “I’m Dominican, why?” The second the word escaped my lips, her fingers recoiled, as if I had the plague or something. With a firm nod and a slight wave, I never heard her again—except for when I got a message on Facebook saying “affirmative action much, lol?” Of course, I’ve come to realize by now that these types of people at Stuyvesant are so minuscule in amount, but it’s likely this will come to stick by me, far into the application process senior year.”

Edwin Estrada, senior

Going to Stuyvesant High School was probably the most unique experience I’ve ever had. More unique than traveling overseas, or playing a grandmaster in chess. I came from a school in east Harlem, a combined middle and elementary school. Being a minority never came up, because everyone who went to school with me all were from the neighborhood. That’s not what made me stand out; what did was my ability to excel in school and reach the top of my classes. Going to Stuy changed everything. I expected things to be tougher, a lot tougher, and I knew not only would I not be the smartest, but I’d stand out like a stick in mud, and not be familiar with anyone. In order to combat this, I decided to join a sport, and what better sport than football? Joining was a great choice, and to this day, I don’t regret it. Not only did I get to know so many people, before school even started, I joined a community and found a place where I belonged. Of course, that didn’t change the fact that I was a minority, but that didn’t matter when I had friends to greet in the hallways as I passed by. As for my classes, the majority of my teachers were welcoming and were only concerned about me doing well in class. After four years of getting to know people, I have to say that the majority of people are friendly and accepting, and any negative comments involving ethnicity are only minor jests, not worth my time. Being a Stuy student, not just a minority student in Stuyvesant has been great for me, because race isn’t important to the people I interact and communicate with, it’s who I am as a person.

Nadine Jackson, sophomore

I identify as an African-American student. Stuy is a good environment to be a minority in. The students here are not here to make fun of me for my race or anything; we’re all here to be these crazy competitive kids, who are just trying to succeed. Maybe I stand out because of my race, but I don’t feel like it influences my school life, nor does it influence the people around me. That being said, it’s a bit sad sometimes to be the only black student in my class, or to realize that there’s only eight of us in the entire grade. I just want for there to be diversity in our school, because it’s a great place to be, and, so far, I’ve had a wonderful experience here.

Grace Cuenca, junior

Since entering Stuyvesant as a freshman, there hasn’t been a single moment I can recall in which I felt discriminated against because of my race. No teacher, friend, or classmate has ever thought less of me because of my Latina descent. In fact, even before my first weeks at Stuy, I was already receiving emails from ASPIRA. I knew that although Hispanics weren’t the dominant race, the school went above and beyond to make every Hispanic feel safe and included.

Most people can look at my face or my name on the attendance sheet and conclude that I’m Hispanic without a second thought. Without asking me directly, most people are unaware of the Japanese side of me. It’s like a little secret that I let people in on, but only when they ask. Although the way I look isn’t something I can change, I do want people to realize there’s often more than meets the eye. Not every Asian you meet is Chinese and not every Hispanic you meet is Mexican.

Zachary Berman, history teacher

I talked about race a lot in my dissertation. People in Sudan tend to use the word black to describe Sudanese people who do not speak Arabic as their first language. At first that seemed strange to me: aren’t skin color and language two different things? But I’ve thought about that a lot recently. It seems like Americans do think of whiteness as more than having light colored skin. Was Djokar Tsarnaev (the Boston Marathon bomber) white? He has lighter skin than most white people, but in Russia he is considered black. Once they published his picture, the American press was full of articles trying to figure out if he is white, which on its surface seems ridiculous.

 

Adam Wickham, senior

My racial experience as an African-American Russian Jew has been one of surprises, discomfort and then acceptance.

I live on the Upper West Side and I went to a private school on the Upper East Side from Kindergarten through eighth grade. I’d grown up among American Jews and WASPs, with very few interactions with African-Americans or Russian Jews outside of my family. My neighborhood is mostly American Jewish. Coming into Stuyvesant, I was surprised how the culture, politics and the values of the the Upper West Side are almost polar opposites with those of Brighton Beach and other parts of South Brooklyn.

At Stuyvesant, I had to come out as Black. I’m light skinned, have blue gray eyes and currently a lot of curly hair. Oftentimes people assumed I was just Upper West Side Jewish, from Delta or Anderson. Some people were surprised, one person laughed in my face, someone else asked me to buy him drugs and most people didn’t care too much.

Mostly due to insecurity, I came to care too much about asserting myself with the black perspective in many of my humanities classes, and I definitely wrote too much about race. Stuyvesant and its stark segregation among friend groups, extracurriculars and even subway stops, really bothered me, and I didn’t really feel that I could comfortably fit in with one group.

Luckily I’ve changed. Now a senior, I have had opportunities to meet people of different and similar backgrounds, from across the country. I don’t really feel alienated anymore, and I have accepted that I will never be in an environment where I can be part of the majority. Stuyvesant is an alternate reality and race has just been one part of my experience here. At first its manifestations shocked me, but now I’m used to it.

Sammie Paul, junior

The fear of being the voice of all black people at Stuy is real. I often have to think through my responses to micro-aggressions in classes to not fit the stereotype of the “mad, black woman.” If I get offended by a joke that perpetuates racist ideologies and stereotypes, I am told to lighten up or that I must learn how to take a joke. The race problem at Stuy stems from the problem of entitlement. If you are not a part of the group that is being made the punchline, you do not get to decide if it appropriate or not. It often feels like if I say something is ok or I’m not offended by something, it’s a green light for people to say whatever they want whenever they want when in reality it’s just a personal opinion. Many students like to decide what I and many other black and Latino students should be ok with which is a problem in itself. It may be a simple joke to them, but it goes deeper than that for me, and it is extremely insulting when I am told that it’s just me being overly sensitive. Many people who have made racially-charged comments that have affected me probably don’t remember even saying it, but I do.

The race problem at Stuy is very well avoided. Everything is taken passively or addressed once and done. There are so many ideas of the reason African American students have such a low demographic in the school and many of this ideas are simply untrue. I’ve been told it’s due to African American students being lazy, not being smart enough, or not caring, yet all of those standbys are a broad generalization of a group of people that put all of us into one category that we do not all fit in. There are lazy black kids just as there are lazy white kids and Asian kids and Latino kids etc. Lazy is not owned by a race, nor is any other attribute.

Many people make broad generalizations about things they know nothing of, from conversations about education to hair styles and types. I have been told that there shouldn’t be a BSL from students have have never stepped foot in BSL. Many people judge with no basis for their judgment.

Everyone is entitled to their educated opinion. However an opinion based on stereotypes and racially charged ideology does not count as educated. Many students have made comments with no grounds other than stereotypes, especially in conversations about the SHSAT and the college process.

I just wish that they would come to a BSL meeting and speak with us. I wish people who have so much to say in class arguments and discussions would take the time out of one of their days to come talk to people who have had these conversations their entire lives. I wish people would be willing to have these conversations non-confrontationally.

Stuy heavily lacks dialogue and that is so important to bring any group of people further, especially in an environment like ours. There are so many brilliant students of different backgrounds here, and we are missing valuable opportunities to learn from each other, to experience new cultures, and be exposed to topics and conversations we would never be able to have had we stayed forever in our little bubbles.

Ms. Dwyer, in her AP American Voices class, makes me one of the happiest girls in the world. I appreciate the effort she makes to directly address topics about race. She completely embraces the dialogue and goes above and beyond to have it, and it has enriched my time in her class exponentially. We spoke of historically important African American figures as well as contemporary pieces from Asian authors on the topic of race. We are currently watching “The Central Park Five” while talking about persuasive pieces.

I have never had a class with such an open dialogue about something that means so much to me and affects all of us: race. On one hand I am so grateful to be a part of it. On the other hand it is disheartening that I have only ever felt such an open space in English classes.

Once I was in English class discussing Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. The book is set in England in the early 80’s. For the majority of the first part of the book the main characters seen are kids around the age of 13 interacting with each other in various scenes. Mitchell (the author) opted to use the British vernacular among youth in the 80’s instead of correct grammar when displaying the young characters interacting with each other.

We were speaking about his choices as an author in class when one Asian boy commented that he believed the characters were African American due to how they spoke and their economic situation.

You could hear a pin drop in the room and all of my friends looked at me with a deer-caught-in-headlights look. I was extremely taken aback that someone would make a comment like that using the ideology they did in a school like Stuyvesant. I was praying for someone other than me to say something lest I be labeled the “angry black woman.”
I raised my hand to reply but another student who happened to be Asian was called first. She completely shut down his entire comment pointing out all the flaws in his argument and much of the class showed the same sentiment. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to be the one to say something or that I wasn’t the only one who saw how glaringly wrong his statement was. The teacher and students both handled the situation very well and he openly apologized to the class the next day. What bothers me is the fact that that thought went through his mind and he saw it as okay, as something you can say in a class that will further a conversation in a positive way. What bothered me was his thought process.

I am thankful for the kids who did respond negatively to his comment, but that needs to happen more. There have been many times where I have to start the conversation, and that shouldn’t be the case. I hate feeling like the voice of all black people because I am the only one in the room. If something is wrong, speak up whether it be a sexist comment and you’re a guy or a racist comment and your race isn’t directly affected by it. It takes all of us speaking out against all micro-aggressions to make stuy a better place.

There should be room for that dialogue everywhere, especially in this social and political climate. Now is the time, if any, to be speaking about race and the role it plays on a home level, school level, work level, and world level. There are so many opportunities missed when these conversations are minimized or avoided completely.

Nusheen Ghaemi, junior

Stuyvesant may be more than 70% Asian, but that felt like nothing to me coming from a middle school that was probably 90% Asian. Sure my mom is Chinese but I always felt different from my classmates. I don’t speak Mandarin at home like all my peers did, and am less in touch with that side of my heritage. Nearly every day during lunch I would drink chocolate milk. One day when I was throwing out my lunch, one of my classmates said to me, “Is your skin dark because you drink chocolate milk?” He and his friend laughed like it was a joke. I remember putting my dad’s name on the poster next to the classroom door to sign up for Parent Teacher Conferences and people not knowing how to pronounce it and making fun of it. Compared to that, Stuyvesant has been such a different experience. My grade in middle school was only 60-70 kids. Each grade in Stuyvesant is almost 800-900. Stuyvesant appealed to me because it was so much bigger, so much more diverse compared to my middle school. For me, my race has never been a problem at Stuyvesant. People usually aren’t able to place me and I suppose that helps me escape the Asian stereotypes. Nonetheless, I don’t really notice the race issue in Stuy since I’ve met more people of different races than there were at my middle school; I’ve even found someone else who is Persian-Chinese, something I thought would never happen in my whole life. People usually suppose that because I’m ethnic and a more unique mix that I have something interesting to say about race. In all honesty I haven’t experienced any racial discrimination apart from the one racist stranger on the street. I acknowledge its very prevalent existence but I don’t feel it on a personal level.

Lois Wu, sophomore

I’m an Asian girl who plays the piano and enjoys art. Super specific description, right? As we all know from the mass of Asians we see swarming across the Tribeca Bridge, or, the beloved “Stuy” Bridge, Stuyvesant High School is more than 70% Asian.

I didn’t always go to such an Asian school. I attended a middle school that also lacked diversity, but in the opposite way. I went to a small private school that was made up of mostly white kids, where I was maybe one of ten Asian kids in a class of about 60.

I could have stayed there for high school, but I wanted to go somewhere bigger. When I was deciding where to go, Stuyvesant’s lack of diversity was a turnoff. Yes, my middle school also lacked diversity, but they seemed to be actively making strides to change that. They offered financial aid to those who could not make the $40,000 tuition and the principal of the middle school went around to each grade to give us talks about how they were increasing financial and racial diversity in the school. The large tuition would always be a limiting factor in increasing the diversity in my middle school, but at Stuy, people were limited by something entirely different: one score they got on one test in the beginning of eighth grade. Sure, everyone at Stuy has earned their place by getting a relatively high score on the SHSAT, but this lack of diversity is still a problem. Perhaps we could implement a system that determines high school admissions like college admissions, or maybe based on Statewide test scores, but it is definitely something to think about.

Adi Kapoor, senior

I haven’t experienced true racism since middle school (other than occasionally being called Muhammad, Paco, and Juan), however I have noticed a lack of Indians at Stuy. When I first came to Stuy over 3 years ago, I was surprised by the sheer amount of “brown” people. Coming from a middle school with virtually no South Asian students, it was a nice change. However I found it odd that every single person I met was either from Pakistan or Bangladesh. Teachers have always assumed that I am from Bangladesh, often asking me to read a passage written in Bengali or identify a historical figure from the nation. I was surprised with the strong Islamic cultural presence at Stuy, and I enjoy seeing such an embrace of different cultures. In fact, I feel as if there are more Muslim presence at Stuy than at Vidya Shilp – a school I had attended in India. This has an interesting effect as I’ve found myself with more Muslim friends in the United States than I’ve had in all my travels. As far as the idea of a “race issue”- at least in this context – I don’t think my Stuy experience would have been any different with the inclusion of more mainland Indian students. However I do take issue with the definition of Asian. Often times when people refer to Asians they refer to the “traditional” sense of the word. Essentially that means if you are from China, Japan or South Korea – you are Asian. Then you’ll hear them say “Oh wait you’re technically Asian too, right?” In addition to attending school in India, I attended an International School in Singapore where the word “Asian” held little meaning at all. People were Indian, Chinese, or Singaporean but rarely ever Asian.  However here people’s unconscious use of the word eliminates over 1 billion people from its meaning – but that’s just my two cents.

Chloé Delfau, senior

Something we take for granted is New York City’s acceptance of diversity. Stuy is similarly diverse, except in terms of race. With only 83 Hispanic, 41 Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 22 Black, and 10 American Indian or Alaskan Native students in a school of 3,362 students, Stuy is not reflective of the population of our city, or even of the of students attending NYC public schools. Every year, when the results of the SHSAT are released, Stuy is immediately hammered for its lack of racial diversity in accepted students and the fairness of the entrance exam is reevaluated. We are torn. On one hand we want to believe that the system is meritocratic, but on the other, we have to acknowledge that it is inherently flawed and that not everyone is given the same resources and opportunities in the application process. It is wrong that non-White and non-Asian students do not even compose of 10 percent of the student body.

Over the summer, when we first learned that Mr. Contreras would be Stuy’s new I.A. principal, news articles were released about his consideration to start intensive summer programs for aspiring Stuyvesant applicants from underrepresented middle schools. Mr. Contreras agrees that our lack of racial diversity is something we should work to improve.

Just the other night, I was watching The Daily Show and Trevor Noah said something that really stuck with me. In his interview with Tomi Lahren, the host of The Blaze who is notorious for her viral angry videos, he told her, “There is nothing wrong with seeing color. It is how you treat color that is more important.” This strongly reminded me of Stuy. We have to see that the lack of racial diversity is an issue in our community and then take measures to resolve it, like those proposed by Mr. Contreras; we have to see a lack of color before treating it.

Marica Derose, junior

Since I often find myself being one of the only black kids in my classes, it feels as though I have something to prove not only to my peers, but also to myself. Since the odds already said that my chances of getting here were slim, it’s like, “Okay now you’re here. Don’t mess it up for everyone.”

Ahmad Alnasser, senior

I never really considered that a race issue could present at Stuyvesant, mainly because being somewhere like New York City means you are able to see just about every race within a 40-minute train ride. However, just because there isn’t a race issue does not mean that race isn’t present in everyday life.

I’ve noticed my ethnicity playing a large role in my daily education. Whether it’s a friend asking me how my “people” spend the holidays, or a classmate asking me a string of questions about my cultural practices the day after an Arab man set off a bomb in Chelsea, I wear my “Arab-ness” like a t-shirt.

Despite all of this, however, I don’t think a race issue does exist at Stuyvesant. It’s more about how much we know about the world around us. I have, at one point or another, found myself making broad generalizations about someone else, and, while I’m not proud of it in the slightest, I know where it comes from. It stems from a lack of exposure to different people and cultures, so one begins to take everything on eye-level.

This is why Affirmative Action in college campuses helps keep racism to a minimum. When one is able to interact with people from different places, the prospect of harmfully misunderstanding someone is greatly diminished.

At Stuyvesant, we aren’t given the luxury of having as much racial diversity, but as a school we can supplement that with education. I have no problem with being open with my background, but there definitely times where I feel misunderstood, or alone in school. Overall I don’t think there is a race issue at Stuyvesant, particularly because of our city’s racial diversity, and the potential for our students to look past a face and focus on the person behind it. Only with education and diversity can any potential issue in the future be prevented.

Payton Gallagher, senior

The other week in class, my teacher announced we were going to look at a case study of a crime, and put up a slide show. The first slide was a title page with a picture of a male person of color filling up about half of the screen, and the first comment the teacher made was, “Now, he looks like a bad hombre!”

I want to say I was surprised, but the sad thing is that I wasn’t. I looked around the room for half a second and met a few other people’s incredulous looks and then said, “Yo, that was mad racist!”

He tried to brush it off and continue the lesson, realizing he messed up, so I stood up and yelled, “Yo, that was mad f-ing racist!”

Immediately, he asked me to leave the classroom and talk to him after class because he didn’t appreciate the language I was using in his classroom. I responded by saying I didn’t appreciate the language he was using in my classroom, and I was gonna go wherever I wanted, and then I went to Ms. Damasek’s office.

There, I was told I maybe could have done something about what he said had I not cursed, but, because of the language I used, I couldn’t do anything of consequence.

I don’t think anybody in the class would have said anything if I hadn’t; I think most Stuy kids are often too afraid of damaging their grade to stand up to a teacher over questionable things they say. But I was overcome by a fear that this was going to be let slide.

There are no black or Hispanic kids in my class, and teachers can’t be allowed to feel comfortable making offensive remarks behind people’s backs. To let that happen is to assume that classes full of the top students in the city are okay with racism. Teaching a class about criminal justice procedures and making fun of the people most targeted by the cops?

I believe it’s an almost common marker of Stuy classes that the teacher will make less than commendable comments, especially in the Humanities department, and kids in the class will look around at each other, like, “That wasn’t really okay, but we aren’t going to say anything to the teacher because it’s not really hurting anybody in the room.”

This is most harmful because teaching potential future politicians and leaders—people who will have an impact on the world—that slurs can be brushed off is dangerous and needs to be stopped. It’s also a marker of the rise of racism and prejudice across the country. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant about our place of privilege here at Stuy and the language and beliefs we promote.

Raisa Karim, senior

Just a few days ago, my friend was fuming about how a boy in her class called the hijab a “potato sack.” Yes, this happened in Stuy, #thisis2016. The level of ignorance is declining but the roots of racism are still embedded in societal constructs.  

While I haven’t experienced blatant racial bias, I have felt unconscious and unspoken bias, which I am guilty of having as well. For example, there is the notion of brown people, especially brown girls, as not being athletic. If I fail to do a certain gym requirement, I blame it on my race and how my parents, unlike other Asians and Caucasians, never enrolled me for swimming lessons or the like.

I was the first girl from the Muslim Student Association to try-out for volleyball. I remember enthusiastically pulling on my favorite socks and packing my water bottle that morning. However, I was greeted by girls who had formed cliques from the past few years: I was the only brown girl there. I was wearing sweatpants, not compression shorts. I was wearing a loose volunteer shirt, not a fitting volleyball shirt. You couldn’t see my ponytail flouncing around either.

After a point, I was happy that I was told to go home because the environment was just so foreign. I had anticipated that my dressing differently wouldn’t matter. Wrong. It strained my confidence. I sulked home that day with bruised arms. Still, I didn’t regret trying out. I broke a boundary that day.

It is because professional and sports dress codes violate a Muslim girl’s dress code that many hijabis don’t feel the will to participate in such activities. As of late, professional dress code has acknowledged Muslim clothing so it is not as unusual to wear slacks. However, because a lot of these fields remain predominantly non-Muslim, hijabis still don’t feel comfortable and don’t take as much initiative as they could.  

When they do, they end up like me: president of three clubs, where the attendance of each club meeting is three people. Laugh if you will; it’s not funny, though, especially if you know your club can have just as much potential, if not more, than a club that has been running for the past decade or so. It’s disheartening that the only ones who are willing to participate are those of my ethnicity. Where is the diversity? How will the diffusion of ideas occur to foster a proper learning environment?  

It is when we deliberately separate ourselves that the terms “brown club” and “white/Asian club” manifest. It doesn’t matter who we are or what racial denomination we fall under. We need to step out of our comfort zone for the sake of diversity in society, which will lead to more efficient solutions in the future.

The Muslim Interscholastic Tournament isn’t just about Muslims; it’s about different NYC public and private high schools competing against each other in various categories such as debate, writing and arts. No, we don’t just read the Qur’an and speak about Islam. The theme of the competition can be bent to a more religious or secular interpretation: it is ultimately up to you, as is stepping out of your usual social groups to diversify.

Michael Holmes, senior

I wouldn’t say there are any major racial issues at Stuyvesant. There may be cliques based on race, but it’s not uncommon to see multicultural groups of friends. However, I have witnessed somewhat unintentional racist remarks being that I am half Black and half Hispanic growing up around a vast majority of Asians. People make comments about how “weird” my hair is, to how I’m too “light skin” to be considered black. Some of the more common comments I hear are “you don’t act black” or “you are the whitest black person I know.” I am aware of stereotypes placed upon the black community, yet it bothers me greatly when generalizations are made on individuals because of such stereotypes. It also bugs me when I am labeled as acting “white” when deviating from a stereotype. Such claims don’t affect me as much as they would other colored people, the reason being that I have put up with it for most of my life. A similar point to be addressed is that when I ignore a racist remark or pass it off as nothing, I do not speak for colored people as a whole. There are those who are offended by such statements. I have often felt inclined to speak up against racist remarks, but my desensitivity to these situations prevent me from doing so. While racism may not be a major issue at Stuyvesant, it is still present whether intentionally or not. I believe some people should be more careful as to what they say, as they may not be as fortunate to come across someone as carefree as I am.

Peter Samuel, alumnus (‘16)

Going to Stuyvesant was interesting, because it either felt as if my teachers made me either increasingly visible; or the inverse. There were instances in which, to quote Claudia Rankine, “I was graphite against a sharp white background.” They thought that by being subtle I wouldn’t notice their micro-aggressions, their assumptions about my ability or what I could do. Inversely, there were times I felt so invisible. On multiple occasions when there were multiple black students in a room, we would all seemingly be one and the same. I’ve been called by the wrong name over and over again in my Stuyvesant Career and it hurt. It made me feel as if my own being wasn’t enough.

Neil Yang, senior

Race at Stuy is an incredibly complex topic that really can’t be described as only “an issue”. Is there racism present in the institution? Are some students and teachers racist? Definitely. It would be naive to assume that our school is “pure” and completely insulated from the violent rhetoric that the student body and administration tend to sweep under the rug. Race could be described as the “elephant in the room,” but it’s an elephant that no one ever wants to engage with. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting that it exists, and until we can move past the step of admittance we’ll always be stuck with this issue.

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