Students of TTSD use their voices for social issues

Hannah Figueroa-Velazquez, Opinion Editor

The year 2020 has proven to be a monumental shift in the culture surrounding societal issues that minorities have faced for centuries. More specifically, the death of George Floyd, another senseless killing at the hands of police has sparked an outcry, and crowds of Americans have marched to demand that Americans not only become more aware, but change. 

In the Tigard-Tualatin School District, The Student Union has been working tirelessly to reach a more equitable and safe space for all students. This included pushing to end pay-to-play fees in our school district as well as publishing a hate speech policy that ensures repercussions against all those who use slurs and verbal offenses. 

Differences in opinion may vary from person to person, but no one can argue that our generation is not heading towards change. However, in these times of strict safety measures and a conscious effort to keep loved ones healthy, finding safe and effective ways to actively make change can be difficult. It is important to remember that there is no one form or picture of what activism looks like and that every person, no matter how helpless one may feel, is capable of helping. 

Some students at Tualatin High School shared their input on student activism and how they’ve managed to actively make a difference.

“I’ve been able to stay involved by keeping up with local and nationwide news and looking at people in our community’s personal experiences with certain issues,”  junior Brenna Rizer, an active member of the TTSD Student Union, said. “Especially with issues like School Resource Officers, just showing up to those school meetings and supporting the people who share, and if you can, sharing your personal experience is sometimes all you can do. True activism means standing up for people, regardless if it directly involves you, in order to create a better society for everyone.” 

Another Tualatin junior, Nadim Palmer, who has been passionate about achieving a more racially-just society from a young age, expressed his views on how to avoid being performative. 

“Activism is standing up for what you believe in and being active in your community, whether it’s through protesting, donating, etc,” Palmer said.…”A lot of people post stuff on their social media but don’t really show any action behind it, which is why it’s performative.” 

At Tigard High School, senior Abdirahim Mohamoud shared what being involved in change within the school meant to him: 

“Me personally, I don’t like the word ‘activist’ because once you give labels, you put yourself above people,” Mohamoud said. “It’s hard because even me, who has been in the room when policies were written and wrote some myself, I feel like I am not doing enough.” 

Mohamoud, having written the hate speech policy in our district and fighting to have the student’ voices be heard in school board member Ben Bowman’s campaign, encourages students to keep pushing forward. 

“We have been doing a great job becoming more into the student voice and caring about each other but we still have a long way to go. We have to rejuvenate being involved, especially for younger students, and make it cool again.”

Another driven senior from Tigard High School, Rowan Kelleher, has found little ways to make a big impact within our school district. 

“I have had a lot of great opportunities to work with other students and adults in organizing for social change, and I believe there are many accessible options for anyone,” Kelleher said. “You can always reach out to the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union to get involved with other students, or attend school board meetings and write in public comments if you want to inform the school board or district of anything. Additionally, a lot of adults want to help create a better community for everyone, so just asking can be a great way to start. If you want to get involved with something you think should change at a district level, I would reach out to school board members, your principal or me. As a student representative to the school board, I can help connect you with whoever you need to meet with” 

If interested in helping create change in more than just the school district, Kelleher shares ways to make an impact statewide: 

“On the state level, you can reach out to state reps and senators for your district. Getting involved can often seem intimidating, but if you get into contact with the TTSU or me, we can definitely make things more comfortable and make connections easy, as a lot of leaders know the TTSU.”

Lastly, Tigard High School senior Jonathan Nguyen shared his views on the BLM movement and his involvement in district anti-racism efforts. 

“As an Asian-American myself, I’d like to preface my response with the fact that I don’t claim to understand the plight of African-Americans in the United States or their experiences,” Nguyen said. “At a personal level, the BLM movement represented my first experience in a leadership role with regard to social justice.My involvement includes organizing of the Student March for Black Lives, co-writing A Resolution Of The Tigard-Tualatin School Board Of Directors Condemning Racism And Committing To Being An Anti-Racist School District, lobbying various legislative officials and working on the committee that wrote the TTSD Bias Incidents and Hate Speech Policy.”

Looking ahead, a recurring push for school involvement was voiced by students, touching on how the Tigard-Tualatin School District can offer support for all students fighting for change. Janet Polanco, a junior at Tigard High School, has attended both local and city-wide protests for Black Lives Matter. 

What steps can the Tigard-Tualatin School District take towards being a safe space for all people? 

“I feel like resources for students need to be more apparent,” Polanco said. “As a student of color, I feel like it’s hard to know what resources are available to me. I also feel like there’s a lack of representation in staff that reflects the students.” 

Polanco emphasized the importance of continuing to spread awareness and keeping yourself up to date on societal issues even if you’re unable to actively protest. 

One Tualatin junior, Lexi Bennett, has used her social media platform to educate herself and those around her. She spoke on the value of recognizing her privilege as a white person and using it to help other minority groups as well as which areas our district could improve in. 

“I think there’s a lot that can be done in our district to make people feel safer,” Bennett said. “One thing in particular would be either not having the SROs at all, or just training them better overall; I’ve witnessed many times where people have been stopped/questioned just because of their race. I think teachers also should probably be trained to better handle situations without bias.” These students are not alone in asking for a fair and just community, from local injustices to bigger picture issues. How they’ve been able to help may differ, but ultimately each student pushes us closer towards a common goal.We all have room to learn and grow, so taking the time to educate yourself and working on building empathy should be your first step in the right direction. Running for leadership positions in ASB or TTSU, joining affinity groups, starting clubs, spreading awareness, attending protests, signing petitions and most importantly, practicing what you preach are all ways to help the community progress. No matter what, we must never stop pushing forward. 

As best said by senior Jonathan Nguyen, “There cannot be complacency. Improvement must continue indefinitely.”