Life experiences shape diversity views at CK
February 26, 2009 · Updated 11:56 AM
Three students. Three different backgrounds. One black female. One white male. One Filipino female. One issue: diversity.
Three contrasting views with one commonality: things are improving at Central Kitsap High School (CKHS).
The following is a look at the personal stories of CKHS juniors Jasmine Twymon and Logan Healy-Tuke and senior Rachael Balbarona, who sat down individually with the Central Kitsap Reporter to answer tough questions about diversity in the halls of the Central Kitsap School District’s largest high school.
When asked to define diversity, Twymon, who is black, said, “Diversity is a mix of different people, different races, different religions and everybody brings something to the community that we can learn from each other.”
Although different groups of students tend to socialize together, there aren’t any overt displays of racism or cultural intolerance, but that’s not to say stereotypes don’t exist at CKHS, she said.
“Last year at Christmas time we had an African-American student come to school dressed as Santa Claus in Sambo attire and he had no idea what Sambo was,” she said, adding that while she found it offensive, the majority of her classmates were simply unaware of the divisive racial undertones associated with the Sambo character.
More recently, a broadcast at the high school showed students portraying African-Americans dressed in baggy pants and loose-fitting clothes similar to the gangsta rappers who are seen on MTV and have become one of the latest stereotypes of African-Americans, she said.
Even with those two examples of ignorance and stereotyping, Twymon said CKHS Principal Stephen Coons and his staff have been supportive of the efforts of the school’s diversity alliance and in addressing diversity concerns when they arise.
“When we go to them, they will find ways to help us,” she said, noting things have improved in the two years she’s attended CKHS.
Asked to compare her personal reaction to President Barack Obama’s inauguration with that of other students, Twymon said her personal excitement was tempered by the almost indifferent reactions of non-black students, who didn’t appear to see it as a big deal.
Obama shattered the stereotype of blacks being unintelligent, inarticulate and unable to use rhetoric in speech compared to whites, because “he is very intelligent, he uses rhetoric in his speeches and he’s extremely articulate,” she said. “The only difference is the color of his skin.”
Unlike some of her classmates born and raised in Kitsap County, Twymon has lived in Florida, Georgia and Hawaii before coming to Washington state as her father, who serves in the military, has transferred duty stations.
In the Deep South, cultural awareness was part of every day life, which was part of the culture shock that came with not experiencing that same level of awareness in Kitsap County.
Even though the n-word has become part of the mainstream hip hop jargon, Twymon said, “It hurts a little bit when I heard it used.”
One of the things she and another student were able to accomplish during Black History Month was putting together a display in the school’s main lobby, but the effort originally began with 15 students, she said.
Twymon credits teachers J.D. Sweet and Elizabeth Blandin for inspiring her to do more to promote diversity within the high school. Although her future plans are to be a professional dancer, she said diversity awareness will remain a large part of her life.
When asked to sum up the diversity atmosphere at CKHS, Twymon said, “I do think we’re a great school and things are getting better.”
With his red hair and pale complexion, Healy-Tuke, could easily fit the stereotype of the white teenage male. But contrary to the stereotype, Healy-Tuke has an appreciation for diversity and believes the majority of the students at CKHS are at least accepting of the different groups that compose the student body.
“I would say it’s at least accepting and people have their own social groups and don’t tend to get out of their comfort zones,” he said, noting there isn’t an attitude of division or derision, but in a school as large as CKHS, students socialize with their different groups of friends.
Diversity to Healy-Tuke extends beyond racial and cultural differences and to different life experiences and backgrounds which help make people who they are as individuals.
Growing up in Kitsap County and attending local schools for his entire academic career, Healy-Tuke said he didn’t notice his classmates breaking into different groups until they entered junior high and by the time they reached CKHS, those habits were firmly entrenched.
He said he wasn’t surprised that Obama was elected president, and that the majority of CKHS students didn’t appear to be necessarily shocked by the event.
During Black History Month, his English class has focused on the works of Frederick Douglas and James Baldwin, which have proven insightful, he said.
Overall, Healy-Tuke said the school’s administration does a great job of supporting diversity and while there will always be room for improvement, things at CKHS are in large part accepting of all races and backgrounds.
Balbarona moved to Washington state with her parents from the Philippines as a young child, offered this definition of diversity: “Diversity, I believe, is a bunch of different people who come together, whether it be different races, backgrounds or religions.”
Overall diversity is accepted at CKHS through the work of the school’s Diversity Alliance and other groups that work to enhance the school’s acceptance of diversity.
Celebrating that diversity as the school has done during Black History Month is important, but Balbarona said she believes it’s important to celebrate other cultures like Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders as well.
“Mr. Sweet got into Jews, Mormons, Indians and Asians in his class, and he’s a very good teacher,” she said, noting the school celebrated its Native American culture with several events earlier in the school year.
Her parents have instilled within her certain Filipino cultural values like studying hard and taking advantage of the opportunities she has that her parents didn’t as children, she said.
“In elementary school I went to a predominately white school where I was the only brown student,” she said, adding she never felt the slightest bit of racism or ostracism. “For the most part, I feel I’ve been accepted.”
Even though at times people have told her “You’re too Asian” and made other such comments, Balbarona said she’s been able to shrug them off and maintain a positive outlook.
One of the most powerful influences in her life in terms of how she views others has been her brother, who has autism, and his friends, she said.
“These kids don’t see race,” she said, adding that her goal is to be a special education teacher.
“They just see you as a person.”