I entered Princeton Day School as a curious, naive, and bubbly kindergartener. In my class of 13, there were only three students of color, and in the entire kindergarten class there were only six. At the age of five, the lack of diversity wasn’t a pressing issue in my mind. I was more focused on trying to color inside the lines and write my name. Race was never something that I even noticed throughout lower school. African American history in general wasn’t taught in lower school. However, as a lower schooler I could tell you all about George Washington and random white authors. I didn’t even know African Americans were authors, and it was never a problem because I was never introduced to them. My parents never told me about racial issues or that I was different from other kids. They emphasized that I was special, but never explicitly mentioned race. I assumed this was because they didn’t want me to feel aloof, or inferior to the white students, because of my race. However, I don’t think that there should be an excuse for the administration. African American history should be taught in lower school to raise awareness among non-minority students. It seemed as though the administration didn’t see a need to teach American American history, because of the lack of minority students.
Middle school was worse than lower school, full of hormones, cliques, and harder schoolwork. Four more students of color joined our grade, and of those four, three of them were African American males. This was the first time that African American males were introduced to my grade. This was new, and it brought on many ups and downs. In middle school, relationships were important. I always felt bad that I was never seen as “pretty” or “dateable” in the standards of a white guy. I started dating my first boyfriend, one of the new African American boys, and we have been together ever since. At one point we both took a break from each other and dated white people. We both found that we weren’t able to connect with them. We both understood what it was like to be a minority in a majority white school, and we had similar mindsets because of that. It was during middle school when I started to realize that race really mattered. It looked as if the majority of many of the friend groups in my grade were white. I can’t say that my peers were being racist by having white friends, but there was definitely an unconscious exclusion based on race.
When I entered high school, many more students entered our grade. None of the new students were African American, which was a surprise to me. Our grade now was comprised of about 100 kids, but we hadn’t gained any new African American students, however, we did lose one. I didn’t realize I was so naive when it came to issues of race until I got to high school. Now that our grade had gained more people, the lack of minorities really hit me. In middle school, you could be in classes with all the minorities in your grade, but in high school, where there are more white students, you could be the only minority student in the class. At first you may not realize that you are the only minority student in the class, but once issues of race come up, it can be uncomfortable. However, I have been able to use clubs as an outlet. I joined the Black Latino Student Union (BLSU) as a freshman, and immediately found allies. The club was open to minority students throughout the entire upper school, so I was able to get support from upperclassman. We talked about racial issues within our community, current events dealing with race, and ways to come together as a group. It was a safe place where I could speak my mind without judgement. My senior year, this year, I became the co-head of BLSU, and we have had amazing achievements so far. I vowed that I would try to make BLSU the best it could be this year. My goal was to get BLSU more recognition and respect from the rest of the community. We have done a lot of activities that have involved the whole school, as well as just our group. I spoke to a second grade class about affinity groups and BLSU, we screened a film about the struggle of a minority student in a predominately white school, and the middle and upper school participated in the Race Card Project, in which we displayed them in our school (http://theracecardproject.com). We were even able to partner with another club to have an open meeting about police brutality, which went very well. We were able to attract teachers and students of all races, and we had a fruitful and informative discussion.
I’m immensely proud of myself and the work our club has been able to do. I’m also proud of the administration for becoming more accepting and interested in making PDS a safer and more comforting place for minority students. Now that I’m going off to college, I can say that I have evolved, matured, and become more aware of the ignorance that people have toward race. I now have the tools and experience to educate others about the importance of race in our society.
– Written by Sabrina Matlock (redefy contributor)