Updated: Jun 3, 2021
On April 16, students and faculty gathered on Zoom for Eagle Rock High School’s first Intra-Extracurricular Student Voices Conference. The hour-long event aimed to empower students within their interest areas by enabling them to discuss club-specific topics, share resources, and interact through dialogue about next steps with their peers.
The conference was a product of several student voice sessions about allyship and #StopAsianHate. Held exactly one month after the murders of the Atlanta spa shootings, it was centered on listening to student voices, equipping students to share information, and continuing to build community through conversation. In her opening remarks, Principal Keipp highlighted the importance of creating a “brave space,” spotlighting respect, compassion, and engagement.
Following Keipp’s introduction, the conference featured a selection of six 40-minute breakout room panels. Each one was run by an individual student or specific club paired with a faculty co-facilitator.
1. Activism Through Arts
Briana Garcia, ERHS Junior, curated a presentation based on the relationship between activism in artwork and how artists can promote activism using their platforms. The presentation began with the song Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone; the upbeat melodies and lyrics about inclusion inspired an impromptu dance party to welcome everyone into the space.
Following this, Mr.Gudex presented a piece by Patrick Martinez titled “Remembering to Forget”. The artwork featured neon installations with a social justice narrative that inspired dialogue about the meaning, personal feelings, and how artists might include social justice themes into their pieces.
Garcia continued by showing various artists like Yoko Ono, Kurt Cobain, Jasmine Cho, and Amanda Gorman who used their art and platforms for activism and awareness. Putting emphasis on the intersectionality between art and social justice, she concluded with a quote by Henri Matisse, “Creativity takes courage”.
2. Allyship with Asian-Americans
ERHS junior Rafaela Trajano and Principal Keipp led a panel on Allyship with Asian-Americans. The two opened the discussion with an inclusionary, introductory question, “What does ‘Asian’ mean to you?” Student responses ranged from exploring the unique cultures across Asia to stressing the prevalence of the model minority stereotype of Asian-Americans.
“Asian includes many different cultures with many different traditions. We can’t generalize it. It’s a very beautiful, very diverse thing,” emphasized Trajano.
After navigating the definition of such an expansive word, Keipp and Trajano presented “Kaleidoscope World” by Filipino rapper Francis Magalona. The song celebrates the spectrum of race, while simultaneously acknowledging rampant socioeconomic inequity: “So many faces, so many races / Different voices, different choices … Some are rich because of fate and / Some are poor with no food on their plate … Some are friends and some are foes / Some have some while some have most.”
“Kaleidoscope World” sparked conversation around the idea of beauty in diversity. Particularly, Magalona’s chorus drove home this theme: “Every color and every hue / Is represented by me and you.”
Following this discussion, the panel transitioned into sharing resources, followed by a period of reflection. Keipp introduced Hollaback!, a global movement to end all forms of harassment. Currently, Hollaback! offers free bystander intervention training to stop anti-Asian and xenophobic harassment.
More information about registration for Hollaback!’s free training can be found here.
3. Reading as a Form of Resistance
Melania Espinal, ERHS sophomore and club president of Humanities for the Homies, explained that her panel with H4h sponsor Ms. Gendrano Adao was designed to “discuss the ways that books, reading, and literature have shaped activism and political action.”
Espinal and Gendrano Adao initiated the discussion with a check-in question encouraging attendees to consider a literary work that they connected with. From there, dialogue shifted into the manners in which radical text is intertwined with activism.
Espinal described examples of radical movements led by literature, from the Black Panther Party who read at least three hours each day, to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro for whom books served as a guide to revolution. The presenters also emphasized the influence of individual books, like Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ The Communist Manifesto to ignite political and ideological revolution. As for the enduring relevance of literary communities, the pair recounted the origins of book clubs as “led by women and non-white women which have been used to liberate and educate.”
Espinal and Gendrano Adao closed by providing several book recommendations.
Espinal and Gendrano Adao also encouraged attendees to check out Humanities for the Homies, “a literature, political education, and leftist club focused on the liberation of non-white youth and providing direct aid.”
4. Science Activists
ERHS junior and Astronomy Club president Samantha Green created her Science Activists panel to demonstrate “the importance of science activism, why we should value science and education, to broaden the view of science, and to explore ways that students can get involved in the LA area.”
In a presentation with Astronomy Club sponsor Ms. Ramos-Lopez, Green described science activism as the marriage of science and politics on issues including global warming, loss of biodiversity, overpopulation, and ocean pollution. She highlighted the necessity of scientific insights in policy, sharing a quote by Connie Lee, “Scientists have a lot of demands on their time. But getting involved in policy and advocacy is extremely important. Politicians hear from many lobbyists. If they don't hear from scientists too, we might be left out.”
Green went on to talk about different scientists who used their work to advocate for important environmental policy changes, such as Tamara Galloway who researched the marine consequences of microplastic debris.
Transitioning to opportunities for students at ERHS to engage in scientific activism, Green shared several STEM clubs including Mr. Yee’s Robotics and Animal Awareness clubs and Ms. Soto’s Computer Science club. Green also highlighted opportunities in the greater LA area, including The Great LA River Cleanup.
5. Student Voice for Advocacy & Activism
Student Voice for Advocacy & Activism was led by Students Deserve co-presidents Bella Ramirez and Griffin Joseph. The panel was designed to demonstrate “how to use your voice as a student and amplify everything from community activism to global activism, and how you, as a student, can make sure you have your voice heard,” said Ramirez.
Students Deserve is a student-led district-wide group focused on making Black lives matter in LAUSD schools. Chapters at individual schools unite in the fight to divest from school police and invest in Black students.
Student Voice for Advocacy & Activism was co-facilitated by Mr. Moran, who discussed his process and progress on a new project highlighting the impacts of helpful and hurtful language. Moran is creating a Google Form as a means of getting student feedback regarding what it feels like to hear “heal language” and “hurt language,” which he defines as words that bring us together or words that drive us apart.
Moran’s ultimate goal is to make a video “coming from the students, for the students” about the socioemotional effects of positive and negative language on campus. He also hopes to make a word wall spotlighting effective and uplifting uses of words.
6. Uplifting Voices
Girls Can Create president Tomiko Younge’s presentation, co-facilitated by club sponsor Ms. Mendoza, encouraged individuals to use their voices to speak out for change.
Uplifting Voices featured a TEDTalk by Luvvie Ajayi Jones, called “Your silence serves no one.” Jones urges listeners to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” and outlines three criteria to bear in mind when choosing to speak up: “Did you mean it? Can you defend it? Did you say it with love?”
“Telling the truth should not be a revolutionary act; speaking truth to power should not be sacrificial,” Jones asserts in the powerful video. “In a world that wants me to whisper, I choose to yell.”
Attendees reflected on the video saying that Jones makes uplifting others sound like something we can all do together. “Even if we’re not necessarily going to make a big difference right away, we can start out doing small things,” noted one participant. “Speaking out can start these conversations and make an impact that way.”
Luvvie Ajayi Jones’ TEDTalk - “Your silence serves no one.” - can be found here.
As each presentation came to a close, the conference concluded. Back in the main Zoom, Keipp invited attendees to reflect on a series of guiding prompts about the experience.
The final question posed connected the range panels on cross-disciplinary advocacy and resonates beyond the event itself: How can we support systemic change for equity?