Teens Overturn Taboos

Just Communities Holds Annual CommUnity Leadership Institute

<b>GOING WILDE:</b> San Marcos High School students say there should be more LGBTQ representation in their English reading curriculum.
Brandon Fastman

The Just Communities annual CommUnity Leadership Institute (CLI) wrapped last Friday with teenagers from around the Central Coast presenting action plans that they will take back to their schools in the coming days. The eight-day camp, held at the Dunn School in Los Olivos and at which students learn, according to the CLI website, about “injustices that divide the community,” culminates in a concrete proposal to help remedy some of those injustices. Past plans have resulted in success stories like the Don Riders lowrider bicycle club at Santa Barbara High School and a farmers’ market in Fillmore-Piru.

This year, a group of students from San Marcos High School is returning to school with plans to advocate for more LGBTQ texts in English curricula. Students from Dos Pueblos High School are embarking on a campaign to raise awareness about abusive language. “When I am called a fag, it hurts,” said one. Santa Barbara High School students hope to form a justice club. The students are asked to put together specific plans that include timelines, allies, and outreach strategies.

Throughout the week, adolescents had participated in team-building activities while discussing typically taboo topics such as racism, sexism, and classism. Throughout, the kids were divided into “target groups” that are discriminated against and “privilege groups” that are immune from certain types of discrimination. Martin Leyva, who served as a mentor at the institute for the first time, said, “I was really sketched out at first” when kids were divided, but the resulting discussions created empathy and “empathy creates change in the world,” he said.

For students and teachers alike, one of the more powerful activities involved students of color probing internalized racism by writing down names that they are called ​— ​and call each other ​— ​on Post-it notes. Those included “border jumper,” the n-word, and “tonto.” They slammed the notes on the wall and shouted the word. Many students said they cried at various points throughout the institute, including that one. “You don’t realize how prominent oppression is until you feel it,” said Santa Barbara High School senior and aspiring documentarian Isabella James.


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