By Elleiana Green
“Compassion. Empowerment. Community. We stand with and support our students of color and the Black community,” read Marian’s first public statement following the murder of George Floyd on the school’s instagram, @omahamarian. Depicting a student made mural to celebrate Black History Month, the post was received poorly among students of color. Seeing the post as an easy way out of an uncomfortable situation, students at Marian wanted more. “At the time when I saw the post, I was enraged at everything,” junior Shantise Pearson said. “I wish they would have expressed that they stood by all of us and hoped to make things better going forward.” Pearson’s reaction, like many other students, was heard by the administration. “Our Black and Hispanic students spoke with passion and urgency as they articulated what Marian needed to do in order to be more inclusive and welcoming. Their input was and continues to be critical to our diversity efforts,” said President Mary Higgins. Days later they scheduled a Zoom meeting to give students of color within the community a platform to have a voice going forward.
Among the biggest calls to action the Zoom meeting brought forth, was the need for representation in the community. Having no Black staff members within the school community of nearly 700 students and 80 faculty and staff members, Black students at Marian weren’t surprised that the school didn’t know what to do. “We wanted someone who understood our struggles and would fight for our voices to be heard in every situation. Hiring someone we could all relate to would be the first step of many towards diversity and inclusion,” Pearson said. Following the meeting, students’ voices were heard once again as the administrators embarked on hiring a Black Diversity and Inclusion director. “Myself and a few other students, Lauren Harris ‘21, Agoum Monydhel ‘20, and Aker Ajak ‘20 were contacted by Principal Mrs. Susie Sullivan to gather up questions they could ask potential directors. It felt good knowing they wanted our perspective throughout the process,” Pearson explained. In the weeks that followed, Marian interviewed several potential Diversity and Inclusion director candidates. Keeping this news as private as possible, when students received word that Devin Owens would finally represent them, they were relieved to see change within the community. Representation, though, was the first step in building a more inclusive community. The work was only just beginning.
Within the first few weeks of school, Owens held several meetings open to all students who were interested in attending. Coining the name, ‘Donuts for Diversity,’ the school hoped to hold these meetings as a place for open discussion regarding inclusion. “Holding events in the midst of COVID-19 was extremely difficult,” Pearson said, “We didn’t get to accomplish nearly as much as we had hoped to because students were constantly in and out of the building. We didn’t let the pandemic stop our efforts to make Marian a better community for all.” Throughout September, juniors Alyson Tule Martinez and Izzy Soto organized events and seminars to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month. Hoping to uplift as many cultures as possible, students celebrated Asian Pacific American Heritage month and hoped to honor National Native American History month, but the school went remote days before events were planned.
Making teachers aware of problems within the school community was just as important as the students. Seeing this as an opportunity for everyone to learn a different perspective, teachers were required to read White Supremacy and Me by Layla Saad. Teachers hold a lot of power within their classrooms and ensuring that they strived to create a comfortable learning environment for everyone was another one of Marian’s goals. Creating a space for teachers to have bi-weekly discussions over their reading and working with guest speaker Abena Imhotep to learn more about racial equity, staff members were held accountable. If Marian was committed to this goal, they knew they had to provide resources and learning opportunities for their teachers just as much as their students. Still, the biggest addition was yet to come.
For years, senior Lauren Harris tried to create Marian’s first ever student-led Diversity Board. She hoped to create a group of student representatives to be the umbrella for all things diversity within the community. She strived to have the board held to the same standard as other Student Government boards within the community. Teaming up with juniors Shantise Pearson, Izzy Soto, and Jillian Rater, Harris held meetings with administrators to make her dreams a reality. Hoping to serve as a voice for the underrepresented, they wanted to face difficult discussions about race and sexuality head on. “We needed to have these discussions,” said Pearson, “Because that’s when the healing really starts.” Marian’s first ever Diversity Board made their debut over Instagram as they released their account, @ mariandiversityboard, to the public. Students celebrated as another major achievement for inclusion was made just days before Black History month. The account honored Black History month by posting 28 Black influencers for every day of February. Not only this, but the group, along with several student volunteers, spent hours creating a mural of a Black woman in the shape of a tree with roots of Black pioneers. The group hung the mural in the entryway of the school, so that every day when students entered, they wouldn’t forget the Black pioneers who blazed the trail for them. Gaining respect within the community, the Diversity Board committed themselves to rebuilding the Marian community for all students.
“I feel fulfilled to see this Board take off,” Pearson said, “It gives me purpose to keep doing better for our community.” Multiple times within the last year, students of color have felt helpless, but they have never stopped striving for change. Persevering through the struggles, the students of color have established a lasting discussion regarding race and inclusion of all races in the Marian community. Regardless of the challenges they face, at the end of the day, Marian is home, and they want to continue to make it a better place for future generations of girls just like themselves. “I have a younger sister,” Pearson said, “If I can make this community more welcoming for her so that she doesn’t have to worry about some of these issues, I will have done my job.” Realizing that Diversity and Inclusion will always be an important issue for PWIs to address, Marian commits to change and creating a space for all students.
By Elleiana Green