Forum for Unity


Anna Finley

Students were able to sit down and listen to different opinions at the student forum

Jessie Moyer, Sentry Staff Reporter

Ever since the election, it is not uncommon to walk through the halls and overhear a heated political argument, or to be in a conversation where someone’s views are considered invalid. More seriously, many would not be surprised to find themselves in a situation where they feel that their mere presence is unwelcome, making them feel unsafe in their own school. To combat this, some teachers have put up signs with messages intending to welcome those who feel like they do not belong. This action faced backlash from many who saw these messages as politically suggestive and counterproductive to creating a safe environment for all viewpoints. Due to this, and many other instances of controversy, seniors Caroline Fatemi and Graham Weinschenk decided to create an open forum in which students were welcome to voice their opinions on the hostility that seems to have become prevalent in this community. The forum was sponsored by numerous clubs as well such as, the Student Government Association, Teenage Republicans, Young Democrats, Latinas Leading Tomorrow, Minority Student Achievement Network, Gay Straight Alliance, Sister Circle and International Club.

“We decided to create this [forum] because there was clearly a need for it. It sounded like people on both sides felt like their opinions weren’t being heard…. This was a great way for people to talk about it in small group discussions and really explain their opinions,” Fatemi said.

A large variety of students decided to participate in the forum to better understand their peers and have an open discussion on the issues they feel most passionate about.

“I chose to attend the forum to try and voice my concerns about the signs and also to try and understand students’ views who are on the other side of the argument,” senior Emma Hawkins said.

The students were given a set of questions and rules to follow to guide their discussion and ensure a productive and safe environment. The list of eight questions included topics such as, “Do you feel welcome at Yorktown?” and, “How can we increase our community of respect at Yorktown?”

“The questions were sort of jumping off points for people to be able to talk about deeper issues … they were just a way to start that conversation,” Fatemi said.

The rules were put in place to make sure all conversations stayed respectful, honest and efficient. No one was allowed to talk over one another and no one’s experience was allowed to be shared outside of the room.

“It was very civilized and there was room for understanding and thinking rather than just two people bickering and trying to convince the other side of their argument,” Hawkins said.

Another rule that was in place was teachers were not allowed inside the forum. The reasoning for this was that students needed to be in a space where they felt comfortable sharing their opinions with their peers and without fear of judgement from a teacher about what they had.

Since then, Fatemi and Weinschenk have organized one more forum and hope to do even more to encourage a safer and more honest environment at school.

“The main goal was just for people to talk and people to hear from each other and create more of an understanding because I think that’s what ultimately will lead to solutions … Eventually we want to open it up to allow for a bigger group discussion. Maybe from session to session [we will] hone in on one specific topic that may be hard to talk about,” Fatemi said.

The response to the forums has been overwhelmingly positive, with many students willing to come again to discuss these things even more.

“I definitely learned a lot from other students and it opened my eyes to things I had no clue that were going on at Yorktown … my biggest take away was that no matter what side you were on politically, Yorktown has a bigger issue and needs to look at the bigger picture and take action on issues that are being ignored,” Hawkins said.

School is a place where students come to learn and grow as people, and an environment filled with tension and intolerance has no place within the walls of a classroom. Students must work hard to combat these feelings with open conversations and understanding, something the forums have helped to facilitate.