Q&A with Naiya Davis

Angela Park and Thomas Chan

WSPN caught up with junior Naiya Davis, the student who created the I Too Am Wayland video, and the signs in her video were posted in the school last Wednesday. Pictured above are two of the signs.

What made you make the video?
So basically at Harvard, a lot of students of color went through stuff like stereotypes. [People saying], ‘How did you get into that school? You’re black. I didn’t know you were that smart.’ Or there was this one black girl who had a white boyfriend who said, ‘If you get any darker, I’m not going to be as into you.’ It was a bunch of Harvard students who go through a lot of stereotypes said by other students.

Then I got this idea for Black History Month because this is the first year where we’re actually celebrating Black History Month, and black history wasn’t really acknowledged that much during February. I decided to make a video, grabbing random students of different genders, races and sexes to say stuff that they went through and what people said to us in the school because a lot of kids in our school don’t think that these things go on. There are people in our school who are homophobic. I spoke to a lot of gays, lesbian and bisexuals about what they go through, [including] the stereotype of a guy, if he’s not manly enough. I just wanted to get awareness across. Black History Month is made for diversity.

I want to make sure people understand these comments are hurtful; I think a lot of kids in the school don’t realize it. They don’t realize these comments really do affect all of us. [I feel like] there are a lot of people who are ashamed of themselves in this school because of the comments [including] the Asian comments or the black comments or the gay and the homophobic stuff.

Did you ask people from all backgrounds?
I asked Asians, whites, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and I asked a little kid, too, to see their opinions on it. I have lots of people who get stereotyped [in the video] because it shouldn’t only be about black people. It should be about any of us who experience discrimination or receive rude comments. I got people’s permission to put their photos in the video, and if they wanted their faces cropped out, I did. Even though there may be allegations that I did not do so, I did. These statements were said by students in the school, which is even more like ‘wow.’ People looking at these comments probably know they’ve said this to one of us.

Why did administration choose to not show your video in advisory?
I think they didn’t want to show the video right away because basically they said that advisory is meant to be a safe place, and it seems some teachers felt uncomfortable talking about diversity by themselves, yet they work at a school where there are people who are different. The teachers didn’t know if they were ready for it. The video is creating a lot of conflicts and opinions, which is kind of good because our school doesn’t face this. I heard that advisory might not be the best place to show students.

So Ms. Mizoguchi sent it to the advisory teachers, and the teachers said they were uncomfortable?
Yeah. There were a few teachers who supported me, but some may not have been supportive of my video even though my video is nothing offensive or disrespectful. It’s a video that makes you think and makes you connect with [students]. It makes you think like, ‘Wow. Have I said these things in this school? I didn’t know that these things stayed with them. They’re quotes of things that people have said to them in the past, and it stayed with them. Wow, I made this person really think that.’

What was the meeting with Ms. Mizoguchi about?
Ms. Mizoguchi didn’t think the signs should have been posted because she thinks we should go about it slowly. She’s basically talking about how it should have been more like baby steps, but a lot of students were sick and tired of waiting around for a change, so they wanted to make the change happen. She did not want everything to be rushed; she wanted to take more precautions and thought there should be a process of showing the video to the faculty first. She also wanted students to be aware that the signs were getting posted and she wanted to have an explanation of why they’re there.

Do you agree with her?
To be honest, I wasn’t a part of putting up the signs, but some people saw my video and they were like, ‘We’re sick and tired of this.’ I wasn’t a part of the whole putting up the signs thing, but I did condone it. Even though people are extremely different from me, I understand why different types of people were angry. I feel like after everything that happened this year, and race being a huge topic, it pushed us to talk about other problems. It just shows you how much we can improve on. It’s not only us. It’s just different things that we can do to make the world a better place. I feel like Wayland has the potential to do that, but we’re not doing it. Wayland’s always talking about how we should be the best, yet we aren’t the best because we don’t face the problems in front of us.

What was the whole process?
I just organized this all by myself, but because of all the snow days, I didn’t get to do everything I wanted for Black History Month, so I’ve been meeting with Ms. Mizoguchi a lot lately, just editing my video and re-showing her everything, and she’s like, ‘You know, we could probably do this the week after Black History Month,’ but some teachers that saw my video thought my video should be discussed among the faculty, so they can be prepared or see what is coming along. I had to get it approved by the teachers to make sure they feel comfortable, and I guess there were a few teachers that think my video shouldn’t be shown so early. I don’t understand how you’re a teacher, and you’ve been trained your whole entire life to be ready for anything, but you can’t talk about this. You prepare for a school disaster, but you’re not ready to talk about diversity? It bothers me to know that some teachers may not condone the video because it’s uncomfortable. Everything in life starts off uncomfortable.

You mentioned you couldn’t do everything you wanted for Black History Month. What else did you have planned?
I wanted to have a speaker come. I wanted to have people from different cultures bring in different types of foods and just have people try food [to] see where we all come from. People could bring in food that their family makes that’s different, but time management and the snow days just killed it, so I just thought that my video was the most outspoken about the message.

The posters were part of the video?
Yes. People just put the posters up. I was like ‘Oh, wow.’ It was just one of those times when people were just like, ‘Forget the rules.’ These were the same posters as the ones in the video.

Did you want them to go up, or did they just decided to put them up after?
To me it was kind of spontaneous. People were just putting up the posters. I did [the video] by myself. I had some help from Jackson DiIanni with the audio stuff. He helped me out a little bit, and it felt good to have someone back me up on this, so I wasn’t by myself.

Will you do anything similar in the future?
I want to make a change so badly in this school. My little brother is going be here soon, and I want him to feel comfortable. He’s a dark black boy. I want him to feel comfortable walking in the school without feeling like, ‘Someone is going to make a comment about my skin tone or my skin color.’ I want to make a difference, so people who are coming [into the high school] don’t have to feel what we felt like in Wayland, [including] the comments and [thoughts, such as] ‘Maybe if I was white, I’d be more a part of this clique, or maybe if I didn’t look this way, they would accept me more.’

Have you ever felt this way?
At first, I never felt the need. It is what it is, but in high school, all these racist remarks [made me think]. Someone made a joke about lynching, and people saying rude things just made me think. I wonder what people really think of me. People think because I’m black, I’m stupid. I wondered if I was white, would I be treated better? Just stuff like that. Maybe if I was white, maybe that would change a bunch of things. I’ve thought about it before, but I feel like because of this video, I know who I am, and I know what I should stand for.”

Do you have anything you would like to add?
I want to say a shout out to the people who decided to be in the video.