Making Reynolds “the place everyone wants to be”

This cycles Op/Ed spotlight: senior Xela Harris

This cycle’s Op/Ed spotlight: senior Xela Harris

Xela Harris, Staff Writer

  It’s no secret that RJ Reynolds is a diverse school, but in the hallways, this doesn’t always seem to be the case. RJR has been known to be inclusive and provides students with a sense of identity, making it the place everyone should want to be. Even with RJR being so accepting and open-minded, the question remains.… Is this truly the place everyone wants to be? 

    Like most high schools, RJR is not without its cliques. However, these cliques aren’t the kind you’d see in a kid’s movie. Since our school is so diverse, our most obvious cliques fall more on racial lines rather than popularity, personality traits, or extracurricular activities. Unintentional or not, most of the time, students hang around other students who look like them. 

    As a student of color, I see these dynamics firsthand. While I prefer my friend groups to be diverse, most students prefer to be around students like them. These similarities can stem from the neighborhoods they come from, sharing a similar culture, or having a similar upbringing. A high school is already a socially challenging place; it makes sense to me that most students prefer to be around people they can understand and relate to. 

    In my four years at Reynolds, I’ve noticed that school segregation still exists, just not in the way you’d think.

    After talking with students of different backgrounds, I have to ask: how is RJR so diverse, but students are so separated from each other? 

   I see the separation between students of color and white students in classrooms, sports teams, and clubs/organizations. In the classroom, I see this distinction between advanced classes and standard classes. The advanced classes mostly have white students, while standard classes have primarily students of color. Unless you are in an honors class, you wouldn’t know that RJR is as diverse as it is.

   One of the reasons I think students of color are hesitant to be in high level classes is because it can be uncomfortable for them. A lot of non-white students who are in advanced classes feel that they have to act and talk in a different way to fit in. Because of this, non-white students rarely feel 100% comfortable being around such a large group of white students. They feel pressured to apply ten times more than the minimum effort with school. I say all this to enlighten our struggles to those who haven’t felt any of them.

    The separation we see in the classroom affects the way students see themselves. One of the reasons so many students of color choose to be in standard classes is because they feel that they don’t have the intellect to do well in advanced courses. Most of them would love to be in them but sometimes lack the motivation even to try and go after that success. I believe this lack of drive is because when students in advanced classes seem so much smarter than, it’s hard to think that you could operate on the same level as them. Especially when you have been in standard classes all through your education with few adults taking the time to really see your abilities.

    I am a black student in all three class levels, and I have definitely felt pressured to give a remarkable performance from my peers, teachers, family, and friends of all races. Their high expectations for me can sometimes feel like cement bricks weighing on my shoulders. 

    These expectations hit harder for some students of color than for others. Some students could be the first generation in their families to attend college or be in advanced classes. Everything they do or say could affect their future for better or worse. 

    Many students of color feel like they aren’t treated equally in more white-dominated spaces. Often people would tell us that it’s just in our heads and that we’re just making everything about race. None of that is true; we aren’t blind, we aren’t overthinking anything, and how we feel about this topic should not be invalidated. 

    Not so long ago, there was once a time when the color of our skin determined if we deserved to be equal to white people. Those times have passed, but there will always be something in the back of our minds telling us that we will continue to be looked down upon. 

   I often compare myself to white students and constantly ask what I can do to be just as good as they are. I find myself envying how my white peers don’t have to go through the same obstacles I do to become great and make those in my community proud. 

  This issue is not just one we see in the classroom. Anyone who has gone to a sporting event or been to certain club meetings knows that the diversity of our school is not always represented in those activities.

    Now sports teams are a different story. Sports such as lacrosse, cross-country, swim/dive, golf, and field hockey have most white students over students of color. On the other hand, football and soccer have the majority of students of color. Track and Field, although diverse as a whole, is separated among the different events. Sprint and shot-put are where the non-white student athletes tend to go, while long-jump and distance runners are the complete opposite, but why is that?

    RJR has many student-athletes of different backgrounds involved with various sports, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that students do stay within their own culture.

    Our school is making a lot of changes, but we have a lot of work to do in making sure that Reynolds is the place where everyone wants to be. A lot of that work is internal. We all need to ask ourselves, why do I sit with this group at lunch? Why are certain classes or sports teams so homogeneous when it comes to racial identity? What can I do to make my classmates feel more welcome and like they belong? This cycle will continue if we, as a community, do nothing to change it.