By Farheen Shaikh
Diversity Week is a week of events that provide opportunities for students and staff to learn about different cultures and celebrate the diversity in their school. South Portland High School is one of many high schools that conducts Diversity Week every year.
“It is so important for every student to know that they are safe, supported, and respected at school,” reported Mrs. Sarah Gay, an English teacher, Civil Rights Team advisor, and Diversity Week organizer at South Portland High School. “Diversity Week is a way to publicly state to the community that SPHS is an inclusive place where everyone has a voice and value,” she added.
Diversity Week was formed when SPHS students wanted a week that would highlight all the unique groups in the school. Since its formation, the size and variety of the events during the week has changed a lot.
“Starting in 2013, SPHS students wanted a Diversity Week that fully included every group in the school, both clubs/activities and different demographics. The Student Senate used to be responsible for Diversity Week, and they did some great programming. We took over when a particularly motivated group of Civil Rights Team members wanted to expand the week and bring in more of a civil rights tone,” informed Mrs. Gay.
A lot of people are involved in the planning process of Diversity Week. SPHS clubs and organizations, such as The Culture Club, GSTA, and Student Senate share the same goals as The Civil Rights Team, which makes the planning process faster and easier. Many teachers and students help organize the week’s worth of events.
“We are lucky to have so many great clubs and organizations in the school that share our goals, including The Culture Club, GSTA, Student Senate, and many teachers and students who are excited to share about their own identities and backgrounds. Some groups, such as students in our ELL classes, work to design activities or workshops of their own, which others, such as Mrs. York, help by guiding discussions after documentary viewings. We often have presenters from outside of SPHS, and those connections are often made by students and teachers who bring their great ideas to the table while we are organizing,” explained Mrs. Gay.
A lot of the planning of these activities is based on reflection. They consider what people enjoyed last year during the week, what was done well during the week, and what needed to be revised. Then, the groups investigate the change in community since the last Diversity Week.
“We investigate whose voice needs to be heard loudest at that moment. Our biggest goal is to help the community appreciate the beauty of the many different identities present throughout SPHS, so all our planning is focused on achieving that goal,” mentioned Mrs. Gay.
SPHS is a diverse school consisting of many different groups of people. This presents some challenges for The Civil Rights Team and other clubs that are part of Diversity Week planning.
“The biggest challenge is making sure that we give as many people a chance to be heard as possible, that we don’t forget to represent a group in our school, and that we don’t accidentally misrepresent anyone. We struggle every year with making sure that we model and practice inclusive, positive language and perspectives,” elaborated Mrs. Gay.
South Portland High School has been conducting Diversity Week consistently for about 10 years. It will be conducting its eleventh Diversity Week in the last week of March this year. Every year, Diversity Week has resulted in the members of the community learning more and more about the uniqueness of their members.
“I think the biggest benefit of Diversity Week is that our school has a public way to express the range, depth, and complexity of our shared identity. A whole week of events focused on celebrating who we are, whether every class participates or not, sparks conversation, reflection, and hopefully a little soul-searching on everyone’s part,” informed Mrs. Gay.
Diversity Week consists of events including: screenings of documentaries focused on different cultures, workshops with teachers focused on various cultural elements, workshops on stereotypes, and many more. However, the highlight of the week is the ELL program’s annual panel.
“The ELL program’s annual panel on the experience of immigration is always a highlight of the week. It makes me so proud of our community when a group of students feel safe enough to share their incredibly personal stories publicly, knowing that they will be heard and sincerely respected for taking that risk. Last year, the student panel had the whole room laughing one moment, crying the next, and lining up at the door to high-five the presenters, all of whom shared thought-provoking true stories that we are lucky to have heard straight from them,” explained Mrs. Gay.
Diversity Week offers a chance to share resources, hear minority voices, educate everyone about the challenges faced by members of our community, and celebrate the uniqueness that everyone brings to school with them every day.
“The Civil Rights Team sees this annual event as part of the evolving fabric of SPHS, and we are so proud to help it happen again every year,” mentioned Mrs. Gay.
Below are some of the events that will take place during Diversity Week from March 27-31 this year:
~ Gia Drew from EqualityMaine and Maine Trans Net presenting on LGBTQ+ rights in Maine ~ The Holocaust and Human Rights Center (from the University of Maine, Augusta) hosting a workshop on stereotypes as they appear in the media, referencing modern advertising and historical images from Nazi Germany
~ Two student panels from ELL classes about their immigration journeys and the process of becoming part of the South Portland community
~ A workshop with Officer Giusto and Mr. Gross focused on how people understand and create their culture through their music (including some live performances)
~ Screenings of four documentaries focused on different cultural elements and stories connected to our community
Check the SPHS website for an updated and more detailed schedule next week.