Series of Minority Meetings, Sharing Experiences
May 19, 2019
Feeling “uncomfortable.” Feeling “very unappreciated.” Feeling “out of place.” Feelings contained inside for fear of being “perceived as angry and irrational.”
These are only a handful of the sentiments of Foothill students from minority backgrounds, and they experience these feelings with striking regularity. Over the course of two months, Josiah Beharry ‘19, alongside Spanish teacher Josiah Guzik, hosted a series of three lunchtime meetings for minority students in order to give them a platform to talk safely amongst peers.
For the organizers and participating students, these meetings had an ultimate goal: feeling comfortable talking about experiences that may help make the Foothill campus a better place, and shine a light on issues that those in the meeting felt had to be addressed.
Beharry began the series with a discussion on how minorities felt on the campus. As a minority, Beharry said, “I notice that makes me be treated differently in some sort of ways.”
Denise Castro ‘19 remembers how her mom had told her to not “pay attention to the color of their skin” because “you all have the same opportunity.” However, after feeling out of place in sophomore-year Honors classes, Castro decided to not take any AP classes in junior year.
Castro felt unable to be “as outspoken, as I am in college-prep classes.”
Castro added that she started this year taking AP Literature. However, on the first day of class, her classmates distanced themselves away from her, sitting next to her and then moving away. Castro “knew those people,” yet as their classmate, she felt disconnected. Alone.
“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Castro realized after classmates continued to ignore her. Castro didn’t want to have the need “to prove myself,” nor “be held to a higher standard.”
Similarly, Jay Garcia ‘19 has experienced ostracization because of factors out of her grasp. Because Garcia has several responsibilities such as working jobs to support her family, taking care of her sick mother, and complicated issues with her sister, she often does not have as much time as she wishes for to study, especially for classes that she enjoys, like Physiology Honors. Therefore, during group discussions with classmates of different backgrounds, she feels inferior. Even when she may know the answer to the problem, she hesitates to speak up as a product of a lack of confidence and the fear that “they’ll make fun of” her. Unable to effectively communicate her brilliance and passion for the topic, Garcia is silenced.
Jocelyn Soriano ‘19 shared her experiences of isolation in the Associated Student Body (ASB). Since she saw that no one in the class “looks like [her],” it was difficult finding someone “who to talk with.” Consequently, her initial moments in the class were defined by being “quiet” and struggling to show “who [she] was.” However, Soriano believes that this changed after “more Latinas” and “more people of different cultures” joined ASB, leading her to find more “people who [she] felt comfortable with.”
Why did the introduction of “people that look like [her]” change her attitude?
Guzik was curious and asked the students, “would you feel as comfortable working with a white student as someone who has the same backgrounds as you?”
The majority agreed that as long as work is getting done, they wouldn’t mind working with anyone. Xiomarra Salas ‘19 concurred, stating “yes, you can be white, and we will have a different connection, but I will not treat you differently just because you aren’t Mexican.”
Beharry added on, “in terms of clicking, I click with minorities.”
Yliana Claudio ‘19 explained that “it’s because it is in your comfort zone; minorities are always going to go with minorities.”
Diversity in School Programs
The inability to associate with anyone in classes that these students detailed creates a barrier that dissuades minorities from participating in programs such as the Associated Student Body (ASB), BioScience or The Foothill Dragon Press.
Within the group, there was a clear consensus that they view The Foothill Dragon Press to be a program lacking inclusivity of minorities. Beharry stated that he believes “there is not a lot of diversity” within the publication.
Jay Garcia ‘19 recalled that she was interested in joining the publication, however, when she saw the publication’s recruitment video that showed who was on the Dragon Press, she believed she would feel like “an outlier.”
As a result, she chose to not apply.
However, Beharry believes there is hope with the introduction of “Intersections in The Dragon Press” that aims to encourage minority participation in journalism.
Soriano moved the discussion forward by speaking of her sister’s experience in BioScience as being lonely. She quotes her sister in saying “that there is barely enough people that look like her, and she feels out place.”
Beharry believed the reason for this was that a student “can’t do Bioscience unless you take AP or Honors classes.”
Rachel Chang ‘19, who is a BioScience member, clarified that this is a misconception that many people have because most members take those classes, so as an academy, they represent themselves that way.
There are no AP or Honors requirements, but Chang believes this should be communicated more clearly to freshmen applying in the future.
Honors and AP Classes, belonging
After the mentioning of the AP and Honors classes, Guzik recalled a Dragon Talk from three years ago in which Andres Coronel ‘16 spoke about his experience as a “Mexican kid in Honors and AP classes,” where there weren’t a lot of other students that looked like him. Based on this speech, Guzik asked if the students at the meetings felt the same way.
In his sophomore year, Beharry “stopped the Honors route” when he realized that “not a lot of people are like [him]” in those classes. This made him feel unable to find a sense of belonging, which on its own deterred his ability to learn.
Likewise, Claudio feels “uncomfortable” and “alone” in her AP Government and Politics class.
“No one in there looks like me, and I sit there and think, ‘are they looking at me?’” Claudio explains. Her love for the class feels like it is taken away from her.
“I’ve been in AP classes all of high school, and I am different with white people,” Claudia Chavez ‘19 stated. However, in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), she feels comfortable as students there “all know each other.” AVID is a class that is predominantly taken by minority students.
She has questioned why she acts differently depending on the classroom she’s in and has come to the conclusion that she “just feels like [she’s] judged more” in her AP classes. This need to prove oneself causes self-doubt in the individual’s ability to succeed and eventually gets to their head, thereby diminishing confidence in the classroom.
For this group, it is not necessary for these thoughts to be true—the feeling is haunting enough to take control of their mindset, which is damaging both academically and emotionally.
The need for a diverse group in the Honors and AP classes is necessary to Chang because she feels that in discussions on identity and race, “it is all white people discussing something cultural and racial identity.”
This feeling stems from multiple occurrences where she shares her culture and identity, but the wrong people seem to be “discussing if they are real or not.”
This invalidation of identity and experience forces many minority students to consider, and often complete, the process of dropping out of certain classes or academies. For example, Garcia loves math and was on the Honors route until she decided to stop because she had met some individuals that “would always talk about some unnecessary racist things.” She was discouraged from moving forward, as the class did not feel like a safe environment for her.
Claudio recalls a similar experience where she “heard this white kid call his friend a beaner”— a derogatory anti-Mexican slur.
“It happened so quickly and passing through the halls,” Claudio states. It is not the first time she had heard the disparaging term. Soriano added on, saying that even if those two people are friends, there should never be any justification for using the word in any context.
Claudio also finds the student complaint of not wanting “to take Spanish [class]” as offensive to Spanish speakers, as the language is part of their identity.
“Well, congratulations on making someone else feel bad because of the way that they grew up,” Claudio exclaimed. “That is someone’s language. That’s someone’s culture.”
“I remember when I was talking with [Garcia] in Spanish, and this senior was like, ‘you are in America so speak English,’” Soriano told the group, recalling the shock of this racist remark.
She did not bother confronting the individual who made the statement, but it was her first experience with that level of racism.
Claudio spoke about an experience of ignorance when she was asked what something meant in Spanish. This made her feel like her background was being assumed solely based on her appearance.
“There is more to a person than just their appearance. We have so much to offer, and we have more to offer than just our cultural background,” Beharry said.
“I’m not your translator, so don’t ask me,” Claudio said. Garcia added that people have done the same to her, stereotyping her based on her accent. Unlike Claudio, she doesn’t mind translating but rather the assumption that led to the question.
Beharry shared a similar experience in which someone asked him, “‘You are close to the custodians, right? We are just too scared to talk to them. Like you are close to them, so can you ask them something for us?’”
He was frustrated that the assumption was made simply because of a similar ethnic minority background.
Their examples of stereotyping were not solely centered outside of the classroom, but within its walls. While seniors read “I am Joaquin,” an epic poem about the 1960s Chicano movement, in their English classes, Beharry remembered “a lot of people looking towards the kids who were brown.”
“Just because they come from the same background, doesn’t mean they know that,” Beharry commented. “It’s something that you can’t necessarily assume all the time.”
This is not a one-time experience. Beharry feels like “whenever it comes to a conversation about ethnicity or race, everyone automatically turns to all the brown kids.” Moreover, as discussed earlier, the minorities typically sit together, so stares go to one side of the room.
Thus, as Claudio puts it, stereotyping “becomes a problem when people look at you differently” because you look a certain, stereotyped way. Furthermore, she feels that sometimes the way people talk about ethnicity “makes it really insensitive.”
As an optional form of solving the issue of students making ignorant comments, the group proposed that teachers could intervene and start a healthy discussion on why a comment may be unnecessary. After all, it is not easy to understand the viewpoint of an individual, but helping to mitigate ignorant comments goes a long way.
Mispronunciations, Importance of Names
“You will never understand how I feel or another student in here feels,” Chang expresses her frustration with this experience.
Why doesn’t a student with first-hand knowledge of the issue intervene instead?
To start, having to confront another student makes minority students uncomfortable and feel that they’re being perceived as rude. It will make it seem that the student is being asked for input solely based on the “way they look even if some students may not have connections to that issue.”
In addition, mispronunciation of names is a common issue that the group has experienced. Claudio remembers how in sophomore, junior and senior year, the same teacher pronounced her name incorrectly, which prompted laughter by the class. However, Claudio did not share that laughter.
“It hurts me a lot because that’s my name,” Claudio explained.
This mistake follows her outside of the classroom, and when people see it as a joke, she feels her name is undervalued. It is a name she loves. It is her identity.
Soriano followed up by sharing her own experience in ASB last year when she was called “Carol,” the name of a former member of ASB. She states how Carol and she look different for the most part; the only similarity is that they are both Latina.
She even thought she was “not thinking straight” or over-analyzing the situation. However, when she talked to other ASB members, they also noticed the mistake.
Garcia shared a similar grievance of hers regarding her name.
“There are six Jocelyn’s in this school and [people] are always like, ‘was that a famous Mexican name back in that year?’” Garcia recounted.
Comments such as these undervalue the importance of her name that was given to her because of her grandfather. She points out their ignorance by stating that “there are white girls who have the name, Jocelyn.”
There are six variations of the traditional name Jocelyn.
Salas has experienced a similar issue when a teacher “called me ‘Xino’ for like three months straight,” Salas added on with frustration on this mistake from a teacher. Her full name is Xiomarra, and even shortens it to Xio for ease, yet mistakes like that frustrate her.
After all, Claudio believes when someone is part of a class and have attended “multiple times, yet [the teachers] are still not making the effort to remember your name” it makes her feel insignificant.
Furthermore, “it is important too because our names are our identity,” Beharry stated. “That’s so important to us.”
However, Claire Renar ‘19 feels “like a lot of teachers don’t really have negative intent. They are making their best judgment of someone’s pronoun or their name.”
Guzik concurred with Renar and gave his own anecdote as a teacher who has made similar mistakes. He recalls immediately feeling “bad about that and [he] apologized about that.” In addition, “we all make mistakes,” Guzik continued.
On the other hand, he sees it important that they “share how [they] feel because I think teachers don’t realize that these things go a long way” to affecting people.
Another instance of a mistake that affected a student was during a discussion on AP and Honors classes when a teacher said: “raise your hand if you are not 100% white.” Which Beharry immediately saw as a problem in the wording and that being the focus of the discussion.
Beharry remembers thinking “what we can do to fix it” would be a better focus.
A lack of willingness by teachers to listen to students is a personal experience for Chang who has been told twice by teachers that she was overreacting. They justified their reasoning by saying that based on their 50 years of experience “what [Chang is] thinking is wrong” but to her, those are “50 years of experience being a white person.”
“That person with 50 years of experience is never going to understand what any of us in this room are going through because every single one of us has their own background,” Yliana added on to Chang’s experience
The group sees that the best solution is to educate the staff on how to deal with certain situations.
Beharry remembers being told by the assistant superintendent that they are working on addressing these problems. However, he’s still confused.
“Why do the same things keep happening?” Beharry questioned. He believes that students shouldn’t have to teach “grown adults who are college educated” what is wrong or not.
Editor’s Note: Article was updated May 24, 2019.
Administration Feeling Unreachable
The issues found within the staff is also experienced with the administration. As Beharry puts it, “they can’t be welcoming to minorities.”
He goes on to share common occurrences during their AVID events in which the administration only showed up “when we have tacos.” This made him question how much the administration really cared about the AVID program.
“AVID is a program that has a lot of minorities,” Beharry explained the importance of the AVID program. “We are first-generation students who are going to college. That is a big deal.”
Castro joined in with an anecdote of when AVID celebrated their college acceptances with administration present to congratulate them. She remembers how “some of the admin showed up late or some of them left early.”
While this was disappointing, Castro praised the “effort from the staff to get the administration’s participation. I think that is progress.”
“It is just more recognition of what the program is, not the people in class,” Renar explained the administration’s relationship with the AVID program.
Gianni Mendez ‘19 also believes that the administration can be unwelcoming to minority students. A few months ago, Mendez and Castro had petitioned (and succeeded) in adding an ethnic studies course to the Foothill curriculum. The process of pitching it required a meeting with Principal Bova.
“Denise, Eulau and I went up [to the office], and he said that there wouldn’t be enough people interested in having a social justice class or ethnic studies class,” Mendez recalls.
“It felt dismissive,” Castro added.
The ethnic studies class has gotten approved after getting enough signatures and will be available to anyone who has space in their schedule next year.
During the Senior SOAR Rally, as those receiving magna cum laude were being announced, she realized that her last name was blatantly wrong. The screen projected “Yliana Castro” instead of “Yliana Claudio.”
“That hurt so badly – that literally made me want to cry,” Claudio recalls her initial feelings. “That was a very special moment for me.”
However, the mistake made her “feel insignificant.” She attempted to tell the administration and a staff member, but nothing was done about it. She understands she still accomplished that goal, but it was undervalued by the error that was not fixed.
The meeting’s focus then turned to the handling of mistakes by the administration. Beharry used the examples of the blackface incident and pride week.
“They made mistakes, and instead of just apologizing, they didn’t,” Beharry shared his frustration. “Even the ‘apology’ for the blackface” did not apologize “for what you did.”
“It’s a repeating pattern that happened again this year, so it’s frustrating to me when it is not addressed,” Beharry continued to explain his frustration.
It feels like the only purpose is to clean up the mess that was created and not fix the issue at its core.
“I share that frustration,” Social Sciences Teacher Cherie Eulau added on. “I am still seething about it, and I’m still upset.”
She believes that the conclusion made by the District was wrong as it “missed the whole point” of the issue surrounding Pride Week.
Due to this, she feels “like they can’t be held accountable for all the things they are doing.” Although she has a hard time believing it now, she hopes that there is a solution to this issue.
Parents’ Disconnection with Foothill
The administration has heard of other requests by students, particularly to assist their own parents’ experiences in being part of the Foothill community, but have not done anything regarding these requests. For example, some students have brought up the need to have a Spanish-speaking staff member in the office.
Most Spanish-speaking parents that call the office are usually forwarded to Counselor Juana Vega or Guzik, but they are often occupied with teaching and other matters. The inability to find anyone else to communicate with creates a disconnection between the Spanish-speaking parents and the school as they don’t feel like they belong. This is detrimental as parents are a backbone for the school; they assist in events and donate to the school. How can a parent be part of a community they can’t connect to?
For a homework assignment, Soriano’s sister was required to get a letter written by her parents. However, since her parents can’t write English, the sister “had to write her own letter.”
“It’s so sad because they can’t write it for her,” Jocelyn emotionally tells the story. “I felt so bad for her.”
Soriano had to get Guzik to translate for her parents at a banquet held on campus which “they really liked.” However, Guzik couldn’t be there the whole ceremony, “so they were confused and didn’t know what was going on.”
This caused them to feel “like they didn’t belong there,” and they didn’t “want to go the second year.”
“It’s not even just us; our parents are feeling the same,” Soriano elaborated.
They hope that there is a solution found so that no parent should feel left out.
Not Wanting to Feel Dismissed
Those in the group felt that at every instance of bringing up the problem, they were quickly dismissed by staff and administration.
“Whenever a person of color ever discusses their own experiences or they talk about something about race then they are automatically perceived as angry,” Chang explains her frustration.
In her English class, Chavez was attempting to explain to a teacher in her own perspective, but she felt like she was being shot down. To her, this was a blow as “it took a lot for me to say that.” Only for the teacher to not be “listening to what I was saying.”
In a separate occasion, Claudio shared sensitive information in her class about her living conditions. However, “other people in the class made points that made it seem like they were dismissing” her story.
“It made me feel like no one took me seriously,” Claudio shared the hurt that this discussion had caused her. She explains that her classmates were oversimplifying what it means to be wealthy or grow up in a place of gang activity. Not everyone can share the same success. Different perspectives cannot be understood by all, but “downgrading” experiences are hurtful to individuals.
This dismissal is also felt from those higher than the administration on campus. During an ASB meeting, Beharry gave a speech about how he felt like a minority on campus to the assistant superintendent and interim superintendent. However, after his speech, the topic was only “talked for one second and then moved on.”
Renar recalls asking a question after Beharry that was discussed for 15 minutes. However, she felt that it “didn’t need to be drawn out” and the attention should’ve been on Beharry as he “was putting [himself] out there.”
It should be those with more power to progress the climate on campus.
After being dismissed for a long time, Beharry feels that it is necessary for more to be done. He believes that students have been pushing toward progress without the full support of staff and administration.
“It’s the students who are doing that stuff. Like it was Gianni and Denise who went and created this Ethnic Studies class; it was Jocelyn who saw the need to have translators in our info night; it was Hannah Yale and myself for starting all these awareness things this year; it was Rachel Chang and [Jimena] who started the whole Intersections in the Dragon Press; it was Vanessa Luna and Shealyn who are doing all the stuff with the MSO kids and trying to break the school to prison pipeline and like there is so much stuff that students are doing.”
Therefore, Beharry is putting the attention on the administration and staff to do something. He and the others in the meetings believe that it shouldn’t be students doing all the work.
However, he will hold a panel on May 20, in the media center where staff, administration and school board members will be present. All are welcome to attend and listen to the stories of students who want to see change on campus.
Editor’s Note: Rachel Chang and Claire Renar are staff members for the publication; neither was involved in the production of this article.