ETHS student group promoting racial equality looks to expand impact
March 1, 2017
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After five years of facilitating discussions on race at Evanston Township High School, Students Organized Against Racism is looking to expand its impact on younger students.
ETHS junior Sofia Garcia said SOAR is trying to get a mentorship program off the ground to pair incoming freshmen with upperclassmen students of color.
Hugo Flores, a senior at ETHS, said when he was growing up, it was hard for him to show he was proud of his culture and heritage because people were mean to him. He said SOAR helped him learn to speak up for what he believed was right.
“If I would’ve had the opportunity kids have today to be up there right now spea king with high schoolers about issues like this, I would’ve felt more comfortable with who I am,” Flores said.
According to SOAR’s website, the group was founded in 2012 by ETHS staff and administrators to “create a space to talk about race and racism” for students. SOAR, which is led by ETHS students, holds two conferences throughout the year at Northwestern, one in the fall and another in the winter. This year’s fall conference, which was open to only ETHS students, had about 100 participants.
SOAR held its winter conference last week in Parkes Hall, with about 150 students from ETHS, Niles North High School, Niles West High School, New Trier High School, Highland Park High School, Lake Forest High School, Glenbrook South High School and District 65 in attendance. The goal of the conference was to discuss privilege, identity and race, as well as how to have constructive discussions surrounding those topics.
ETHS junior Sinobia Aiden said she joined SOAR because she felt it was an empowering group to be a part of. Because of joining SOAR, she felt she was able to advocate for herself as a student and as a black woman, she said.
“My mindset has changed from, ‘What can they do to help me?’ to ‘What can I do to help myself?’” Aiden said.
SOAR holds meetings every Thursday to check in on members and see how they are feeling, Garcia said. The meetings teach members how to stand up for themselves and how to listen to other people’s opinions, she said.
Garcia said she saw aggression and stereotyping by some politicians on the campaign trail this past year. The large, televised platform the candidates had during the election cycle allowed them to have a sizeable influence on people, she said.
“I like saying that one of the only good things to come out of the election was more activism and more (of) a cry for change,” Garcia said. “You just can’t group and generalize people into those stereotypes.”
Garcia’s sentiments echo the goals SOAR listed on its website, which include encouraging interracial dialogue and racial consciousness, developing leadership and collaborative skills, and providing a safe space for conversations about race.
Corey Winchester (SESP ’10), one of the staff members who helped SOAR get off the ground and the group’s current faculty adviser, said he has seen SOAR evolve into a student-led and facilitated group.
The students Winchester works with challenge him and his ideas and vice versa, he said.
“It’s a humbling position to be in,” Winchester said. “It’s a lot of work. I’ve been able to connect with a lot of really great students who are passionate about social change and creating more equitable spaces.”
Winchester said he hopes SOAR helps students understand they have the ability to be agents of change.
“This place has been like a home to me,” said Flores, the ETHS senior. “I have had so much opportunity thanks to this organization, and I’ve met so many amazing people.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the schools who participated in SOAR’s winter conference. Highland Park High School, Lake Forest High School, Glenbrook South High School attended the conference. The Daily regrets the error.