Race in Mariemont’s Classrooms: a conversation we need to have


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BY JACOB MANTLE

They sit in a classroom, surrounded, white surrounds them. Imagine being in a world where everyone else looks different from you: your friends, teachers and mentors.

“Being one of the few Asians or minorities in school, I notice when I’m the only Asian in the class,” said senior Yaitova Speigal, whose mom is Japanese and dad is American.  

In a 2015 study done by U.S. Department of Education, 92.4 percent of the student body is white at Mariemont High School. The remaining 7.6 percent makes up non-white students. The diversity, or lack thereof, is startling as the population of non-whites continues to grow in the U.S.. According to a 2018 U.S. census press release, by 2045 the U.S. will become ‘minority white.’

The lack of diversity has proven to make high school different for some students, specifically allowing non-white students to relate to other students.

Provided by U.S. Department of Education

Spiegal said, “I think it is difficult for students to relate because a majority of them are caucasian and I don’t think a lot of them have necessarily been in a situation where they are a minority––at least not at Mariemont.”

Naomi Akagha, a junior whose family is from Nigeria seconded Spiegal. She said, “I feel like people don’t understand because they’re used to a school where everyone looks like them, talks like them, and acts like them. If they went to a different place, I feel like they would understand better.”

Although some students believe teachers and friends cannot relate to them on a personal or family aspect, some think school-work is something they can all relate to. Akagha added, “They’re not able to relate to what’s happening to me personally, but school wise and education they are able to relate.”

Senior Caleb Sklena offered an explanation to the lack of relatability experienced by non-whites to their peers, “I think a lot of times teachers and kids just don’t know. They don’t know enough about other cultures or ways of life because they’re not exposed to it.

Sklena grew up with a mixed family background––his mother is Sri-Lankan and father a Chicago-native. He said having a mixed background is neat, yet “it is difficult for students to change their viewpoints when they are uneducated about other cultures in the world.” He added his friends sometimes “cross the line” with jokes centered on race or culture.

The senior recalled a specific incident in eighth grade where he was mocked. “A girl made a joke about me being like Osama Bin Laden being from the same area geographically kinda.” He has since moved on, but said, “I don’t think she realized the impact she had because she didn’t have that understanding of a different culture. It’s hard for people to relate because they don’t understand what it means when you say these kind of things.

In a poll asking non-white students if there had ever been an awkward moment occur because of ethnicity, about 80 percent of the students responded having experienced an awkward moment.”  

“In history, we were talking about slavery, and Mrs. Leatherwood showed us a picture of one of the slaves being lynched,” said junior Naomi Akagha. “I don’t know I just felt weird about it because I was the only one there thinking about it,” she said.

Amlung said, “I like to think I’m really good at getting on different people’s levels so they understand me and I understand them. So I can either raise or lower my standards to meet them there.” (PHOTO PROVIDED BY AMLUNG)

Along with awkward situations, stereotyping occurs too.  

It is difficult to sometimes meet the expectations of others according to senior Grace Amlung. Amlung, who is adopted from China, said, “For me I have to work really hard and people don’t see I’m working hard to get to that goal. They just think, ‘oh she’s just really smart.’”

Demetrius Fountain, an African-American senior said, “I feel like every day I get stereotyped as a big, scary person. People will just look at me and assume something I’m not; if they had a conversation with me they would find that I’m a very down-to-earth person.”

Although there are multiple aspects non-white students encounter that their peers do not encounter, growing up in a white society has positively impacted most of these students because of their differing look and different perspective.

Amlung said, “People remember me since I look different. It’s like ‘oh, you’re on the cheer team,’ cause they know I’m the only Asian on the cheer team.”

“I don’t view myself any more special, but I think it is really cool that we have a unique perspective we can share with others,” said Sklena.