When Enough Is Enough, Students Act

Multicultural Efforts, They Hope, Will Help Them Understand One Other

April 19, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff writer

In her four years at Mount Hebron High School, 17-year-old Kali Murray has found herself constantly arguing with her white peers on affirmative action, welfare and other issues.

She also found herself continually dispelling myths about black people.

Then, in December, she became angered by a racial epithet etched on a bike rack in front of school: "No Niggers, KKK."

The black student hiked to Principal Edgar Markley's office to demand action, frustrated and upset over the stereotypical remarks and racial views that she said many students hold at her school.

The result? The creation of a Human Relations Committee to deal with student conflicts andrace-related issues. It's important, she said, because many studentsare insensitive to the growing number of minority students enrollingin the school.

"The students aren't openly racist," she said. "They just don't know and are ignorant of others' cultures. Then you getthe feeling you're not wanted."

Kali and the principal recruited 14 students -- four black, four Asian and six white -- to join the committee, which hopes to create better understanding and multiculturalawareness among students and teachers.

The committee's biggest venture to date is a teacher survey on racial attitudes, asking such questions as, "Do you see prejudice rising or decreasing at Mount Hebron?" and "How do you react in class when students offer prejudicial views?" The results have not yet been compiled.

In a school that hasthe second-lowest black population -- 7.2 percent of the school's 1,138 students -- and the second-highest Asian population -- about 10 percent -- insensitive remarks and racial taunts among fellow studentsare commonplace, Kali said.

"A lot of students are close-minded,"said Kevin Yungmann, Student Government Association president and a committee member. Many students, he said, are insensitive because most -- including himself -- grew up in a predominantly white atmospherefrom elementary school on up, making it hard to relate to students of other cultures and races.

The Asian students have it especially hard, said Dana Yoo, a junior, who said some newly arrived ones get taunted because they don't speak fluent English. They hear such comments as "Go back to where you belong" and "When in America, speak English."

"If we could talk to each other and make them cooperate . . .," Yoo said. "It's hard for students to deal because we don't understand one another. It's hard because we have different customs."

Other high schools have programs for helping students deal with race-related and other issues. For example, Wilde Lake students are assigned to teachers who can lend assistance during advising periods. Atholtonstudents who need help turn to fellow students as part of a peer counseling program. Howard High began an Ethnic Peace Committee a year ago, also at the prompting of a student, to deal with race-related issues.

The student -- a black scholar and athlete who has since graduated, said Principal Gene Streagle -- came into the office one day, wondering what to do and how to act about the drawing of a Confederate flag on another student's backpack.

Brainstorming between the two led to the formation of the committee, which is composed of 15 to 20 students of diverse backgrounds, said Brandon Davis, a senior and amember.

The committee, however, has expanded to deal with all types of situations, from breaking up fights in the hallway to advising freshmen in the classroom to dispelling rumors around the school.

"It's doing a good job," said Yaphett Oliphant, another member. "A lot of people know about it. I think every school in the county should have some kind of group that helps with any kind of problem."

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