Stuyvesant’s Race Issue

To those who are familiar with our school, hearing the words “race issue” and “Stuyvesant High School” together in one sentence can only mean one thing. And for those who aren’t as familiar with the school, all it takes a pie chart depicting Stuyvesant’s racial demographic to point out the obvious problem that exists within our institution: at Stuyvesant, Black and Hispanic students are represented, at under four percent of the total student population. Citywide, they make up just under 70 percent of the public school system.

The underrepresentation of African American and Latino students in our community poses larger questions about educational inequality throughout our city. Within our own community, this circumstance excludes important voices and viewpoints. But some deeply embedded feelings about race at Stuyvesant extend beyond the lack of representation of African American and Hispanic students. Through the articles and surveys in this issue and the student anecdotes accompanying this editorial, we hope to shed light on the nuanced and multifaceted nature of race issues at our school.

What we discovered again and again in these articles and survey responses was that students across all races feel constrained by the stereotypes projected upon them. This occurs in the classroom, where teachers have created uncomfortable situations by treating students of different races differently, whether consciously or not. This is perhaps a result of the disparity in the racial demographics of teachers and students: a quarter of students at Stuyvesant have never had a teacher of their own race, according to our survey, and have reported cases in which teachers seem to favor certain types of students over others.

Outside the classroom, race is also a significant factor. Our friend groups often self-segregate based on race, even if unintentionally, as discussed in the article titled “Unconscious Separation” on page 1. This same pattern can be observed in clubs and other extracurricular activities; a quick look at the masthead to the right of this editorial reveals that 14 out of 34 of the members of The Spectator’s Editorial Board are white, while the other 20 are people of color or mixed race. These numbers are hardly representative of our school, where only about 20 percent of students are white.

Stuyvesant students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds—something the “72 percent Asian” statistic often obscures—but this does not prevent biases and stereotypes from dictating our social, extracurricular, and academic lives.

In many cases, this division occurs unintentionally, and without harm or consequence: our identities, after all, are defined by our values, and our values are influenced by our racial backgrounds. But there are students who feel that, in the eyes of others, their identities have been bound to their race, and it is our duty to ask ourselves why our community makes them feel this way, and what we can do to make our school life more inclusive.

Within our school community, the worst thing that we can do is pretend that race does not exist and that it does not matter. On the contrary, we should embrace our different backgrounds, and be open to learning from and interacting with those who are different from us. Often, we frame race around ourselves, caring more about explaining our own perspectives to our peers than listening to theirs. Our ideas about being the targets of racism overwhelm our abilities to see the struggles of others, and to learn about their lives. Instead, we should take steps toward recognizing that our communities are not exclusive, and that every experience deserves to be heard and accepted, something that requires actively working to put aside biases.

In some cases, we may also need to forgive and accept forgiveness for past transgressions. When we grow aware of the deeply-rooted racial tensions within our school, it is important not to indulge in hateful rhetoric but rather to constructively unite.

Another way to consider the existence of the race issue is to pay closer attention to micro-aggressions towards underrepresented minority students. The tactless comment about affirmative action or discrimination in college admissions, the idle assumptions about one’s talents or strengths based on race, the disturbing ease with which we reduce our peers to mere  caricatures, have no place in an institution prized  for the highest educational mission. We must come to see that if we surround ourselves only with people of the same race, with the subconscious aim of drowning out other voices, we are perpetuating racism.

Tackling an issue as complicated and nebulous as the one we have observed at Stuyvesant can seem futile at times, but we cannot make progress if we do not focus on each small step, or if we fail to recognize the significance of these small acts. Stuyvesant, though racially skewed, is still incredibly diverse; it’s time that this ceases to be a source of division.

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