In elementary school we had a day where everyone would bring a cultural dish, come dressed in their culture’s traditional garb and present to the class about where you came from. The day was always a mix of kids talking about their German, Italian or Polish traditions while the Black kids were left a bit uncomfortable because the link to our heritage had been broken. Sure we brought food that some of us looked up in the encyclopedia. You know, back before the days of the internet. I remember being slightly mortified when my mom suggested bringing cornbread or collard greens because I knew none of the other kids would be bringing southern staples that day.
While the school attempted to check off the box for diversity, it was not a well-thought-out plan and caused a bit of embarrassment and harm. So when a school works to get it right and use their diversity day to discuss social issues and include interactive activities, you want to see it succeed. Turpin High School in Anderson Township, Ohio, had a tradition of holding diversity day where they did just that. Students and staff talked about hard topics and participated in activities where students were required to opt in with a permission slip from their parents. But this year, the school board postponed the much-anticipated day less than 24 hours before the event was to take place and then canceled it altogether.
It was later revealed that the school board took issue with certain language, activities and content of Turpin's diversity day. One school board member, Sara Jonas, called diversity day offensive to Black families that she knows in the district and offered an alternative. Her solution? Share foods and music from different cultures instead of discussing social justice issues. The students at Turpin High were not interested in her suggestion and were upset that the event many students were looking forward to was canceled at the last minute.
The itinerary was changed to address the concerns raised but the school board didn’t budge on its decision and a protest broke out at the meeting, where parents joined students in chanting. The school board sent out a newsletter officially canceling the event, making the decision final despite the joint efforts to reinstate it.
Instead of accepting the fact that diversity day wasn’t going to happen, students decided to take the event into their own hands. Claire Mengel, a senior at Turpin High School, told WKRC Local 12, “I am scared to ask a teacher to go to the bathroom during a test, but I think there are some issues you have to take a stand on.”
Mengel went on to say, “If authority isn’t protecting your needs or listening to you, then they shouldn’t be in authority.” The students have planned to hold their own diversity day off campus on May 18 as well as hold a peaceful demonstration on the same day. These kids are hoping their efforts will bring about meaningful change and their community will be better for it.
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