While attempts have been made to encourage acceptance, lack of diversity at UAHS leaves some students uncomfortable
Zoey Whitmeyer and Bo Fisher
A homogeneous mixture
As the bell rings, a classroom full of students scramble through the room searching for their seats. The teacher begins to walk up and down the rows, handing a stack of papers to the students. Junior Michael Kilstrom reads the heading at the top of the page—Black History Month. Once the teacher finishes distributing the handouts to the class, he announces that today they will be discussing February, the month dedicated to black history. Immediately, Kilstrom receives looks from many students in the class, some smiling, some laughing. Kilstrom looks around the room and notices that he is the only black student among nearly 20 white students; he sinks in embarrassment.
Walking through the hallways of UAHS, one may not notice the disproportionate racial representation, but the statistics speak for themselves. According to the district’s website, 91 percent of UAHS students are Caucasian, while just 6.2 percent are Asian. Additionally, less than one percent of UA’s population is African American. This can present a difficult situation for students like Kilstrom.
“[The lack of diversity] took some getting use to,” Kilstrom said. “I wish we had more diversity in our school.”
These lopsided ratios between races can result in ignorance or even animosity from students and the community. According to senior Sonia Suber, students may be sheltered to the point where they are uncomfortable around people of other races or cultures.
“I feel like we’re in this little bubble, sheltered,” Suber said. “There are some kids who don’t even make an effort to get out [of UA] and because of that, UA can create these ignorant kids.”
Junior Jack Bowman, who attends both UAHS and the Columbus Downtown High School, said the experience of attending a different school was eye opening.
“[The reason] I was ignorant of the lifestyle at Columbus Public Schools [is] because I’ve lived in UA so long,” Bowman said.
Bowman expressed a similar sentiment to Suber, saying that UA is too sheltered.
“I do feel though that UA students are sheltered, which makes them unaware of the culture of kids in the city,” Bowman said.
The lack of ethnicity in the UA school system may not only be affecting minorities. Venturing from clique to clique of students, one may find that most friend groups of the high school are populated by one race. Sophomore Rachel Bishop finds the lack of diversity in groups troubling.
“It’s not weird, but I find it sad that they [aren’t more] diverse,” Bishop said.
Whatever race the groups are filled with, the lack of diversity in social groups does not go unnoticed.
Freshman Derek Galantowitcz is one of many to notice the lopsided groups.
“I believe many people limit their friends because of race,” Galantowitcz said. “I think [the students] could invite or befriend other people.”
To principal Kip Greenhill, a more diverse school has long been an aspiration of his. He said it would help students of all races.
“I wish we were more diverse,” Greenhill said. “It makes well-rounded students, and we try to break out of the bubble.”
The need for diversity is not limited to just the student body. UAHS does not have one black teacher on the school staff. Greenhill said this would not necessarily result in teachers of different cultures or ethnicities to steer away from UA, but it is a definite concern and is difficult to fix.
“It is a concern that we do not have diversity on our staff,” Greenhill said. “[Culture] is not always easy to bring in. You need to hire groups of teachers so they have their own support system.”
A disproportionate ratio between races, like the one Upper Arlington suffers from, can sometimes make minorities its victim. That is exactly what Kilstrom believes from experience. On several occasions, Kilstrom said he has been a victim of racial stereotypes from residents of his community.
According to Kilstrom these racist events began way before he attended any schools of Upper Arlington. Kilstrom, an adopted son of a white family, was brought to his great-grandmother’s house shortly after his adoption. Many years later he was told by his parents that his great-grandmother was not fond of the idea of having a great-grandson who was black.
“My great-grandma called me a negro when I was 1-year-old,” Kilstrom said. “My parents told me that they brought me to see her and she said, ‘Oh, you adopted a negro.’”
Though Kilstrom realizes that his great-grandmother was raised in a different time and therefore an old time perspective, he does not believe that excuses her comments.
Junior Jeff Shy can relate to Kilstrom’s family struggles. Sometimes Shy feels out of place being the only black member in his family.
“[Sometimes] I feel like I’m the odd one out of my family,” Shy said.
Shy’s parents have never heard him complain directly about his race regarding comments that his family or classmates have made, but they admit that he has complained about not fitting in.
“We moved here when Jeff was 4-years-old,” Shy’s mother, Becky Shy, said. “We were not focusing on the lack of diversity [when we moved here,] but on a good education.”
His parents said they believe that racism will exist anywhere they go, but they have not experienced it in UA.
“Students in Upper Arlington can be sheltered from different cultures,” Becky Shy said. “Perhaps they are naïve of the surrounding ethnic groups and cultures. If we wanted Jeff to experience African-American culture, we would have to take him outside UA.”
Traces of the old-world perspective can still be found in UA, although sometimes it remains hidden. Some may find it surprising that in some areas of the district, the deeds to houses still state that the houses can not to be sold to an African American.
According to sociology teacher Chris Swartz, some deeds on houses exclude “undesirable persons” from owning property in UA.
“Specifically the term ‘colored’ is used,” Swartz said. “Not just African Americans, but also Jewish, Catholics, and all ethnic groups can be excluded.”
This topic is discussed in Swartz’s sociology class, and Kilstrom finds it offensive when students act apathetic over the subject.
Classroom discussions on racial topics is yet another touchy subject in the world of racism. Kilstrom and Suber said they believe the discussions are mostly handled well, yet some students can come across as ignorant during these topics.
“In Minorities [class], there are a lot of topics and questions that are insulting,” Suber said. “I am offended when students act ignorant or apathetic to the subject.”
Kilstrom said the discussions never cross the line when handled by teachers, but can create awkwardness among the students.
“They handle it pretty well but everybody looks at me because I am the only black student in the class,” Kilstrom said. “It is really awkward sometimes.”
For Kilstrom and Suber, most racism traces back to school and their classmates, mainly in a joking or non-intentional manner. These situations are easy for them to handle without confrontation. One situation that extended out of the classroom caught Kilstrom’s attention and made him re-consider whether or not Upper Arlington was the warm and welcoming place that some may describe it as.
During the summer, Kilstrom recalls a situation in which he and his friends were driving around the community and Kilstrom was a passenger in the car. At one point in the car ride, the car full of teenagers was pulled over by a police officer.
According to Kilstrom and others present during the incident, none of the passengers had been drinking and they gave the police officer no reason to be suspicious. Despite this, Kilstrom said the officer ordered him to step out of the car and searched him. Kilstrom was the only passenger to be searched by the officer. Whether or not the officer did this purely based on the color of his skin, Kilstrom’s perspective on UA’s welcoming status changed for the worse.
Just a joke?
Over the past few years racism has become popular grounds for joking among students of all races. Such jokes have taken a toll on minorities throughout the years. Kilstrom and Suber said the joking is easy to get accustomed to after the course of a few years, but it does not feel good, especially when the jokes are taken too far.
Kilstrom said it took him several years to adjust to the content of some of his friends’ jokes. Now, he said it rarely bothers him.
“I was offended when it started in eighth grade, [but now] I’m used to it,” Kilstrom said.
To Suber, if the jokes are made to be funny and not harmful, she can handle them.
“In a joking sense, I’ve never [been offended by] offensive comments [made] towards me,” Suber said.
Suber said the jokes are acceptable when made by her friends, but Shy said he believes there is a line that has been crossed by even some of his friends. To him, once this line is crossed, the joke changes quickly from good taste to being racist.
“Students usually take racist comments too far and cross the line,” Shy said. “You know it is too far when people start using the N-word through the roof.”
On the other hand, Greenhill said there are not any jokes regarding races that are acceptable.
“There is no joke,” Greenhill said. “Anything that hurts someone is not funny.”
Though racism is not acceptable to Greenhill, he said he feels that traditional punishments such as detentions or suspensions are not the answer to the problem. Instead, Greenhill said he believes that when problems like these arise, the best solution is to sit the student down and have a formal discussion, setting everything straight.
According to Swartz, most racist comments or jokes heard by him are not necessarily meant to harm other students.
“All racial comments in my classroom have been subtle,” Swartz said. “In sociology, I have related some ethnic jokes to show how dangerous they can be, as a part of a lesson about stereotypes.”
Though Swartz said he believes most comments are made without intention of harm, when he hears racist jokes in the classroom too often or jokes that become too dangerous to the students, he takes disciplinary action.
Though many groups of students at UAHS may be dominated by one race, some students find their way through the racial segregation. Kilstrom, Suber and Shy all believe their groups of friends are racially diverse and have no problems accepting friends of different races.
Students of different races that transfer to UAHS may find themselves out of place, wondering where they would fit in and turning immediately to whomever they can relate to. Suber notices this and sympathizes for these students.
“I think we need more culture at UA,” Suber said. “I feel bad for new students at UA who do not know where they fit in.”
This is not the case for Kilstrom and his group of friends who believe they have a very diverse social group. Kilstrom and his friend, Corbin Grimm, who is Caucasian, said they have been friends since the eighth grade.
Grimm, who also attends the Columbus Downtown High School for half a day, is happy to have such a diverse set of friends. In fact, he can not imagine what it would be like to only have friends of his race.
“It could be a little weird only having white friends,” Grimm said. “I think it is nice having diversity in our group.”
Grimm and Kilstrom admit that they and the rest of their friends share racist jokes at the expense of each other. Neither of them find it to be offensive as long as it is all in good fun.
In the past, the two of them remember times they had to overcome a few racial obstacles of their own. According to Grimm, his grandmother, like Kilstrom’s, can have an old fashioned perspective that can be construed as racist.
“She usually throws around the N-word around Michael,” Grimm admits. Grimm believes that her attitude comes from where and when she was brought up and not hatred for Kilstrom.
“She grew up in that time and does not know any better,” Grimm said. “She just has that mind set.”
To Suber, diversity is an important part of feeling comfortable in school. She admits to feeling out of place on one or more occasions in elementary school.
“Sometimes I wish I lived in a different place with more diversity,” Suber said.
Though she felt like this in the beginning, Suber surrounded herself with friends of different races as a way of feeling individual.
“[When I was younger], I hung out with a lot of people who were different races,” Suber said. “I feel comfortable being an individual. It’s a bittersweet feeling.”