In the spring, recent graduates Priscilla Kwateng '18, Venessa Agyemang '18, Andrea Coria '18 and Lillian Ingabire '18 along with current seniors Kaylle Flores '19, Joyce Matanguihan '19, Oluwadamilola Moibi '19, Kabelo Muhammad '19, Claudia Pensamiento '19, Ashley B. Sarpong '19 and Jessica Vela '19 crafted a presentation on race relations at Loyola born from their personal experiences. They presented their work to the School Leadership Council and faculty members in each of Loyola Academy's academic departments. "It was really powerful," says Director of School Culture Chris Penna. "Every faculty member needed to hear it, and the response was overwhelmingly positive."
The students' objectives were to open conversations about bias, to empathize with the experience of students of color and other minority groups and to bring awareness to racial injustice.
"I wanted to use my experiences to help others understand the struggles that people of color face in the classroom," says Claudia Pensameinto '19. "I wanted to use my experiences as a foundation to create change, even if it is on a small scale."
The presentation included information on student racial diversity, classroom dynamics and also shared anecdotes from students of color at Loyola.
"The major take away for me was how courageous it was to make that presentation and present it to the faculty," says Campus Minister Alexander Lupo. "They are on the front lines in terms of desiring and creating a positive school culture. I was grateful for their generosity and their calling us, the whole LA community, toward a magis that includes inclusivity at LA."
The group gave suggestions for racial affirmation—how we can as a community have discussions about race and ethnicity openly and within a positive framework—and how faculty and staff can be part of the solution by incorporating people of color into the curriculum, attending professional development and training opportunities and addressing racism with healthy discussions.
"The experience was empowering for all involved, most especially because the students' voices and experiences were at the forefront, calling us as a community to listen, reflect and act towards creating racial equality," says School Counselor and Diversity Club Moderator Sarah Bennett.
In the fall, students delivered the same presentation during new faculty and staff orientation.
"This was a great stepping stone for the types of conversations necessary to have among students and faculty," says Campus Minister and Service Coordinator Christopher Knoth. "It was humbling to hear from such strong individuals willing to put themselves out there for the sake of future generations at Loyola. They feel called to make Loyola a better place. Their work is at the core of what a Jesuit education is all about: forming independent learners. They recognized an opportunity to take action and were vulnerable enough to share their stories in order to make a change."
For Ashley Sarpong '19, it's important that discussions like this one continue to happen at Loyola. "The experience was incredibly valuable, but we need more of it in our daily lives," she says. Senior Jessica Vela agrees adding, "I really believe that education on the racial climate is so crucial, especially to the adults and leaders of our school who have the opportunity and responsibility to help minority students make a change."
Pensamiento reflects on the important lessons she learned from the experience. "I have grown more passionate about my interest in social justice issues and political science in order to create significant change and promote equality and equity for all," she says. "With the teachers' responses, I believe that we achieved the goal of creating allies with the teachers who greatly supported our efforts."
To learn more or get involved, please contact Director of School Culture Chris Penna at firstname.lastname@example.org or School Counselor and Diversity Club Moderator Sarah Bennett at email@example.com.