Zoom Screenshot

Race, sex, age, gender, class, ability, religion, and nationality: These are the eight markers of identity and oppression that 225 Samohi community members came together on Tuesday to discuss.

The Zoom meeting, facilitated by Principal Antonio Shelton and Restorative Justice Coordinator Rob Howard, featured a diverse panel of students, staff members, and parents. It is part of a three-step process to engage the community in a conversation on race, culture, and inclusion inspired by the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and creation of the “Dear Samohi” Instagram page, which anonymously shares students’ discriminatory experiences on campus.

“Since the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic, and the creation of the “Dear Samohi” Instagram, a list of emotions have been experienced. But the beautiful thing of what has transpired is that we are finding our voices”, stated Shelton. “So you keep speaking truth. And I know there are many others out there that can speak to that same truth. And we’re going to give a platform to that”.

The Samohi student body is 36% Latinx, 5% Black, around 11% multiracial and contains a mix of religions, socioeconomic groups, and sexual orientations. All attendees were asked to reflect on what aspects of their identity give them advantages, disadvantages, pride and insecurities.

“I always felt so insecure about my race and ethnicity because I was bullied for almost seven years”, stated Kayla Lewis-Koury who is a Black student at Samohi. “I always tried to hide who I was. I would straighten my hair and I would wear tons of makeup”.

“It’s difficult growing up in Santa Monica predominantly around people with a higher socioeconomic status. I have received controversial statements regarding me being Mexican and my mom being an immigrant”, stated student Alejandro Lopez.

When asked what aspects of their identity give them the least power and what aspects they are most proud of, many participants found that they were the same markers.

“After a while I started embracing who I am, my culture and my race. Once I accepted who I was and my unchangeable aspects I could move on and be happier in my own skin”, stated Lewis-Koury. “Even though that is one of the main aspects of my oppression, I still feel so proud to be a woman of color and black.”

“There’s a stigma around Mexicans about not going to college and working straight out of high school. I’m proud that I get good grades and am going to be able to disprove that statement”, stated Lopez.

Facilitators explained the eight systems of oppression that give access to power—racism, ageism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, cissexism, Christian dominance, and nationalism—and everyone was asked to count how many systems they benefited from. Students noted that this shared vocabulary and increased awareness around identity has brought to light problematic encounters, such as those documented on “Dear Samohi”, that were previously normalized.

While the primary point of the discussion was to increase understanding of the different racial and cultural experiences of Samohi community members, students also pointed out tangible steps that could be taken to improve these experiences.

Two students called for the removal of a required parental signature for students to receive therapy at school as some parents are reluctant to provide permission.

“It took my dad five years until we finally got that sign off”, stated Lauren Dawson. “It really affects kids’ mental health, because they’re just going to keep internalizing it and they’re going to think, ‘Nobody is going to help me, I’m crazy.’ It’s especially important with Black and Hispanic communities.”

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District has a list of mental health webinars and resources available on its website. SMMUSD also intends to host a workshop series for parents on Resilience in the Face of Racism as part of the enjoying initiative to increase inclusivity in the school district.