By Mattie Stevens, ‘13 and Grace Moody, ‘14
I hope you girls know that you will most likely be the only African American students in your school.”
As junior Madison McNeil listened toher mother’s words before her family moved to Upper Arlington, she tried to imagine what the new environment would be like.
“To go to a whole different area, a whole different culture, it’s very hard because you don’t know what to expect,” McNeil said.
McNeil is among the 1.1 percent of the student body at UAHS that is black. While being a minority can at times be trying, many believe UAHS is an accepting environment.
Junior D’nae Reese, also a black student, said she feels the pressure of being part of a minority.
“Sometimes I [wonder if] people are judging me when I’m the only black [student] as I walk down the hallway,” Reese said.
Blacks are not only present throughout the student body, but also throughout the faculty at UAHS.
Business teacher Stephen Lewis, who is one of few black staff members, said although the lack of diversity is present, it does not create tension.
“I can say that the community of Upper Arlington High School is an accepting environment,” Lewis said. “The administrators, teachers and staff are all very passionate about bringing the best opportunities for our students to learn.”
He views diversity as a tool with which to learn more about society as a whole.
“Diversity brings the opportunity to learn and understand differences and similarities,” Lewis said. “To understand cultural values and traditions, to understand language, all of which contribute to making us better citizens.”
Like Lewis, Reese shares this thought that experiencing diversity is a learning tool for students.
However, Reese thinks that due to the lack of diversity at UAHS, some white students might have closed minds to the diversity issue.
“Sometimes, since they might not have gotten out of the [UA] ‘bubble’, they don’t open their minds to different races, specifically African Americans, but for the most part they’re accepting,” Reese said.
Although both students claim that UAHS is an accepting environment, McNeil spoke out about a negative experience with diversity during her freshman year.
“For me I have had the experience where students have called me the n-word, not in a nice way,” McNeil said. “I was just walking down the hallway and out of nowhere, I heard the phrase ‘why are you here you ni****?’ I felt a little bit uncomfortable, and then a couple months later I heard it again.”
During the transition from middle school to high school McNeil noticed the shift in attitudes.
“When I went to Hastings the kids were a lot more receptive of me, but when I came to the high school, the environment changed somehow,” she said.
For McNeil, it’s not only having to deal emotionally with being called names, but it is also challenging to react appropriately.
“I try to figure out how I should respond to that when my own race calls each other that name almost everyday,” she said.“I can kind of just brush it off and keep on walking…If you take the n-word as being harsh, for me that’s not moving forward in our society.”
Although this could upset many, McNeil tries her best not to let these words bother her.
“I let it go because believe it or not, they don’t move me,” McNeil said. “If people have a certain opinion about my race and about me, to me it’s not relevant because that’s their opinion.”
Even though there are currently only 20 black students enrolled at UAHS, both McNeil and Reese keep a positive outlook on being a part of a minority group.
“I think the main thing is to be confident about yourself. That’s what I’ve learned because before I came to Upper Arlington I wasn’t very confident at all,” McNeil said. “It forces me to be confident and to have my own personality.”
Like McNeil and Reese, Lewis also keeps a positive outlook on the future of UAHS and its accepting environment.
“As long as everyone continues to be open to change, and are willing to work together towards resolving any racial issues, UAHS will continue to be an accepting environment for all students of color,” Lewis said.
“People may judge me by the color of my skin but it doesn’t matter,” McNeil said, “At the end of the day what matters is the choices I have made to take one step closer to my future, closer to being successful.”