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Diversity Board Initiatives

Julia Kosinski ’21 Features Editor
Founded in the fall of 2015 by former Hopkins students Grace El-Fishawy ‘18 and Josh Ip ‘18, the Hopkins Diversity Board is dedicated to “furthering the interests of all Hopkins students as they relate to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion” on campus.
As a 20 person student organization, the Diversity Board meets every other Tuesday to plan their initiatives. While the Diversity Board organizes many all school events and is recognized as an established group on campus, most of their work is in the preparation and planning that take place behind the scenes.

Each year, Board members form small groups to facilitate and plan a specific initiative. One of the longest standing initiatives is Real Talk, an Assembly presentation series designed to provide a platform to amplify community voices and promote self-expression. This year, the Real Talk initiative is facilitated by Hannah Szabo ’21, Geneva Cunningham’21, and Elena Brennan ’20. When asked about the goal of the initiative, Brennan responded that “we want to highlight the diverse range of experiences within our community and ignite a dialogue regarding those experiences.” According to Szabo, “Real Talk presentations are incredibly valuable as they give everyone who hears them a chance to consider the role their own identity plays in their lives.”

Community members who wish to participate in Real Talk fill out a Google form outlining the topic they would like to present and the method they intend to use. Next, the Real Talk student facilitators review the application. Brennan described the process: “We work with presenters to find an appropriate tone and delivery to make their stories as widely accessible and impactful as possible. Creating presentations on more sensitive topics require deeper thought. In these circumstances, we reach out to adults on campus who can help guide us in the right direction.” Over the past few years, the initiative has expanded from a focus on racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity to a wide range of experiences. “Due to limited Assembly time, Real Talk is also launching an Instagram
account, which will allow another platform to share your story,” added Brennan.

When Diversity Board was founded, it was primarily designed for high schoolers. This year members of the high school diversity board founded the Junior School Diversity Board which is open to all seventh and eighth graders. Facilitated by Dhalia Brelsford ’22 and Cunningham, the Junior School Diversity Board meets every Tuesday during the twenty minutes of free time that the junior schoolers have after lunch.

The Junior School group is currently working on two initiatives: a poster campaign to showcase diversity in various forms, and an Assembly presentation to further inform their peers. Brelsford described the challenges of starting a new initiative: “We only have twenty minutes each week together, so I have had to learn how to arrange my thoughts and talking points so that I only tell the Junior Schoolers what they need to know and ask for their opinions on it. This is my first project so everything is new to me, but I definitely have learned a lot about facilitating and organizing.”

In addition to planning discussions, activities, and performances, the Diversity Board also aims to diversify the History and English curriculums to “ensure that every student’s identity can be represented in the curriculum and students are exposed to differing and alternative ideas.” Khelan Parikh ’20, the student in charge of the initiative to diversify the History curriculum, described this initiative’s importance: “When students learn to appreciate and respect other cultures and perspectives, they will ultimately understand more and judge less.”

When asked about the process of working with the History department, Parikh described how “the Board’s job is to accurately present the student voice to the department. Last year we sent out a survey considering aspects of diversity like race, gender, and national origin to the high school student body to gauge how often they felt their various backgrounds were represented within the History curriculum. We have analyzed the results of the survey, and plan to present
it to the History Department.” Although the Diversity Board has yet to present their findings, Parikh believes that by “merely talking with the History department about our initiative, awareness of the necessity of teaching history from multiple perspectives has increased on campus. When my little brother
began his first day of ninth grade, his history teacher announced her commitment to teaching the Atlantic Communities curriculum’s content from as many perspectives as she could.”

Zoe Kim ’20, who is leading the initiative to diversify the English curriculum, believes this process is important because “students should be able to learn their read literature that gives a perspective other than the white male-dominated one that dominates most high school curriculums.” Diversity Board members develop ideas for additional or alternative books in the curriculum and then meet with teachers to discuss them. When asked about the challenges of this initiative, Kim responded, “It’s tough because a lot of the time the curriculum is based on teacher interest. Rather than a lack of interest in diversity, sometimes our book recommendations just don’t align perfectly with the purpose of the class, or the teacher is unfamiliar with the book.”

Since its founding, the Diversity Board has also brought speakers like Jasiri X and workshops like “The Truth About Hate” to share new perspectives and spark conversation. This year, Clara Goulding ’21 and Magdalena Kombo ’20 are working with the New Haven-based organization Men Up to “better understand what kind of gender stereotypes Hopkins students feel restricted by.” Men Up specializes in working with teens and adults to disempower the negative connotations associated with masculinity. Kombo elaborated on the goal of their initiative: “we want to understand how gender roles apply to different niches and interests within the Hopkins community. For example, the gender stereotypes that HDA (Hopkins Drama Association) students feel restricted by might be a little different than the gender stereotypes of a varsity athlete.”

Goulding described how they are “in the process of creating a survey that is concise and not offensive to construct a workshop led by the Men Up group that will be tailored to the Hopkins community.” Creating a survey for the entire student body that is both respectful of various identifiers and asks potentially uncomfortable questions is challenging. “We want to be as considerate as possible everyone on the wider gender spectrum, no matter how they express or identify themselves. Designing a survey that appropriately addresses this sensitive topic has been difficult, but not impossible. We have also approached other sensitive topics within gender stereotypes, such as issues regarding consent and relationship roles,” added Kombo. Before sending the survey out to the entire Hopkins community, the Diversity Board plans to share it with the leaders of other diversity minded clubs on campus. Kombo and Goulding hope that by sharing the survey with SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) and ERRO (Equal Rights, Respect and Opportunities), they can ensure that the questions are respectful to all students.

Although the core of the Diversity Board is limited to 20 students, any student, regardless of their identifiers can become involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion at Hopkins. Whether it is by participating in the biweekly Tuesday meetings, helping to coordinate an initiative, or joining another diversity-themed club, there are many opportunities relating to furthering respect and representation of diversity at Hopkins. As Cunningham stated, “ultimately, we want to build a community where every student feel welcomed and their voice heard.”
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