Senior William Paik leads discussion panel on discrimination at WHS


Credit: Angela Park

Above, students participate in Tuesday’s discussion panel in the WHS media center. Led by senior William Paik, students came together to talk about race, culture, religion, and the importance of all three in the WHS community.

Lindsay Adelman

A crowd of students gathered in the media center on Tuesday to discuss problems regarding race, culture and religion at WHS. Senior William Paik, who has worked with teachers this spring to bring more Asian-American history into the WHS curriculum, organized and led the discussion panel.

Paik began the event by sharing some of his experiences as a Korean-American and explaining how he finds that Asian-Americans are often viewed as “honorary whites,” an idea which he protested. Paik also talked about how Asian-Americans are usually silenced for many different reasons and are very rarely cast in leading roles in the mass media.

After Paik spoke, other students stepped up and shared their own experiences with racial and religious prejudice at WHS.

Senior Josh Lee discussed macro-aggressive situations in which he felt alienated. During these situations, Lee felt he had lost his identity and was ashamed to be black. He also discussed how he felt that he could not learn about his culture and did not know anything about it.

Lee then shared an anecdote about a history class in which his teacher wrote the names of black and white historical figures on the board and Lee did not know who many of the black historical figures were.

Next, junior Denzel Samuel discussed his experiences with racism. When Samuel was in 6th grade at Wayland Middle School, a friend came up to him and, assuming that because Samuel was black he lived in a violent neighborhood, asked if he had heard gunshots before. Confused at first, Samuel took the situation as a learning experience about the impact of racial stereotypes.

Samuel then questioned why the WHS curriculum does not include more scrutiny of racism and whether WHS students are doing enough to combat prejudice.

After Samuel spoke, senior Nour Sayeh talked about being Arab and Muslim and how she has never heard WHS teachers discuss her culture as part of the curriculum. She also explained that people of her ethnicity and religion are frequently misrepresented on the Internet and in social media, particularly as members of the terrorist group ISIS. This negative portrayal, said Sayeh, has led to widespread prejudice against Muslims.

The next student to speak was sophomore Mehar Singh, who said that, because she does not resemble stereotypes of Indian women, many people assume she is not Indian when they first meet her.

Singh also talked about her religion, Sikhism, which originates from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan and teaches that followers should serve others. She described Sikhism as peaceful and accepting and said that it is based in the precept of doing well for humanity. Also, she explained that her father wears a turban and that knowing that he is Wayland’s only representation of her family’s culture has been difficult for her.

After Singh, sophomore Natalie Hsu took the microphone. Hsu explained that although WHS students all learn something about China, the curriculum does not represent the bigger picture of Chinese culture.

Hsu talked about common stereotypes of Chinese-American students, such as having overbearing parents and keeping up excellent grades, and explained that these stereotypes did not describe her and were just that, as her culture is full of different people with a variety of different traits.

Senior Selena Plummer finished the presentation portion of the forum. Plummer, who is a part of the METCO busing program, talked about living in Dorchester, a neighborhood in Boston, and how because she lived there, other WHS students constantly expressed concern for her safety. She said that people expected her to talk about gunshots and gangs and thought that she left her house every morning carrying a shield.

Plummer has lived in Dorchester her entire life and has never experienced these dangers. She told the audience that the information people get on situations has to be from those who experience the situations themselves, or else it will most likely be wrong.

After the presentation section, the panel transitioned into a discussion. One popular topic was a proposed new class where students would learn about race and culture in order to prevent miscommunications on those subjects and avoid disrespecting others. Some suggested that the class be mandatory.

Some students, such as senior Harrison Brewton, were skeptical of the idea. Brewton worried that students taking such a class would be afraid to ask questions and involve themselves in conversation. Others were unsure about how old students in the class should be.

However, most students who participated in the conversation agreed that friendly discussion was an effective way to learn, and Paik ended the meeting by reminding everyone that this panel would not be the last discussion but merely the first.