Is your school diverse?

By Casey Peeks, 18, Marlborough School
Print This Post
Casey says don’t be afraid to talk to someone who seems different from you.

Coming back from summer vacation is when I notice it the most. For the first couple weeks of school most conversations go like this: “Oh, I didn’t do much this summer. I just went to Italy again.”

I always respond, “That must have been nice. I’ve never been to Europe.”

A classmate then asks, “Who hasn’t been to Europe?”

A lot of people at my school, an all-girls private school, have been to Europe several times, so they don’t get excited or seem to appreciate it.

Private schools are often thought of as all-white, but my school, Marlborough, isn’t. The administrators at Marlborough work hard to create a racially diverse school because they want a variety of experiences so students can learn from each other. But other than race, it doesn’t feel that diverse. Many of us, no matter what our race, have parents who are doctors, lawyers and entertainment industry executives. Most of my classmates came from the same private elementary schools before coming to Marlborough. They live in the same areas, do the same things over summer vacation and have similar lives at home. Being at Marlborough has taught me the true meaning of diversity. It isn’t just race. It’s also different backgrounds and experiences.

We looked diverse, but weren’t that different from each other

When I first came to Marlborough in eighth grade, I thought it was diverse. In my grade about half of the students were white, 20 percent were black, about another 20 percent were Asian and about 5 percent were Hispanic. I was impressed that there were so many black students. I felt that I would fit in more because I wouldn’t be the only black person in my class. I was one of two new girls, and we were both black. The other black students accepted us into their group, so I became friends with them immediately. Even though we were all black, I expected everyone to be different.

But when I started hanging out at their houses on weekends, I noticed that most of them lived within blocks of each other in Ladera Heights, an area where upper middle class black families live. It would’ve been more interesting if some of them had been from the Valley or Hollywood or another part of the city. Los Angeles is so large and diverse, it would have been nice to learn about the different parts of it.

Photo by Jean Park, 17,
Harvard-Westlake School (North Hollywood).

People think race is what makes people different from each other, but I have learned that it’s not race. It’s their experiences that make them different. At an expensive private school it is understandable that most people will come from wealthier families, but I wish more could be done to create a student body with families of different income levels, who live in different parts of the city.

When schools have many types of diversity, you learn how to interact with people who are different from you. My middle school wasn’t as racially diverse as Marlborough, but it was diverse in other ways, even though it was a private school too. I got to experience new things. I went to a lot of bat mitzvahs. In fifth grade I went to a Chinese New Year at my friend’s house. My favorite part was the little red envelopes they give you with money inside. They say that the longer you wait to open it, the more money it will have. It’s supposed to teach children patience and saving. I kept mine in my desk drawer for a few months because I liked the lesson and I wanted to see if I had the willpower to save it.

I’ve always been a curious person who likes to learn from other people. My best friend from my old school is a tomboy and she likes to play video games. I always thought video games were for boys and I didn’t think I’d like to play them. But whenever I visit her, we play video games and it’s a lot of fun. We play a snowboarding game and race against each other. Even though she’s a lot better than me I always try to beat her. I know it’s just a video game but playing it with her taught me to try new things and that I shouldn’t judge people. I had assumed that people who play video games were nerdy and quiet and obsessed with playing video games. But I realized that all kinds of people like to play video games and they can’t be stereotyped.

There is value in all kinds of diversity. Each race or ethnic group has its own culture, and it’s good for people to learn about different cultures. But I don’t think having a lot of minorities at a school is enough to create diversity. If there are different races but everyone acts the same and has the same experiences, there’s a limit to how much you can learn from each other.

My school makes an effort to talk about diversity

Every year my school holds a weekend-long diversity retreat called Face-It. We talk about how we’ve been stereotyped and how we stereotype others. The black students talk about how everyone thinks that they listen to rap music or that they’re all on financial aid. The retreat makes Marlborough a more open environment where people aren’t afraid to share what makes them different. Some people even come out of the closet during the weekend. People are really supportive.

The students promote diversity too. One of the most popular clubs at my school is Alliance, which focuses on gay and lesbian rights. At their assembly this year they talked about how it’s wrong to assume that everyone is straight. There are also African-American, Asian and Hispanic clubs. The African-American club holds an assembly every year during Black History Month, in which they talk about the civil rights movement and famous African Americans. Race and sexual orientation aren’t the only types of diversity, but at my school they are the types that get talked about the most, instead of income and religious diversity.

In one of my classes during junior year, people wanted to order sweatshirts with funny things that had been said during class throughout the year. When it was time to order the sweatshirts, the girl who designed them said, “I ordered enough for everyone in the class. They weren’t that expensive, everyone just owes me $30.”

For most people in the class $30 wasn’t a big deal, but for my friend on financial aid, it was expensive. She felt too uncomfortable to say something, especially because the sweatshirts were already ordered. She had to use money that she had been saving because she knew her parents wouldn’t want to give her $30 for a sweatshirt. If there was more economic diversity at my school, I think people would be aware and more considerate in situations like this.

My school does provide financial aid to create more socio-economic diversity. Some students get financial support, but not everyone is on a full scholarship. And not everyone on financial aid is poor. If a family has more than one child at the school, sometimes the school will provide financial aid. My father is a doctor, yet most people in my class are wealthier than my family. My parents struggle to pay Marlborough’s high tuition, which is $28,950 a year. Then there are fieldtrips, uniforms and extracurriculars like sports that cost money too.

It would be nice to be around more people who have different views and experiences than me, although I don’t know what Marlborough could do to get more true diversity. This is why I like coming to L.A. Youth. It’s nice to get outside of my private school bubble. Students at L.A. Youth come from schools all over the county.

At L.A. Youth meetings I learn about the measures public schools are taking to save money, like laying off teachers—especially younger teachers who students like more—and cutting arts and athletics. After these discussions, whenever I see an article or hear about it on the news I pay more attention. I learned that California spends almost as much money on prisons as it does on higher education, which I thought was ridiculous.

I like meeting people who are different from me or who don’t agree with me. At a summer program at Northwestern last year, I met a girl in the dining hall while eating lunch one day. We couldn’t believe that we both liked this British TV show called Skins because most people have never heard of it (we both watched it online). We’d hang out a lot between classes. One day I overheard her talk about how she’s from a small town in Kentucky where people hated President Obama and were homophobic. I was surprised because that’s very different from my views. For a second I didn’t like her. I had thought all conservatives were mean and stupid but she was really nice. I realized that I was jumping to conclusions about conservatives.

I would have continued hating conservatives if I hadn’t met her. I still don’t agree with them but I’m willing to hear their side. They have reasons for what they believe and they’re not all horrible people who hate liberals and gays.

We should try to get to know others

Knowing people who are different from you allows you to understand people and the world better. If you have a wide variety of experiences you can talk to anyone in a room and have something in common with them. You’re less likely to jump to conclusions about people based on stereotypes. You learn that some things shouldn’t matter, like how much money someone has or their race. You realize that we’re not so different.

I know that it’s not just my school that isn’t diverse. A lot of public schools struggle with it too because most people are from the same neighborhood, so students are usually the same race. But you can still try to talk to people you don’t always talk to. I think that if you can get involved in extracurriculars and clubs that interest you, but maybe not all of your friends are involved in, you will be surprised at all the different people you meet and end up liking. I’ve done newspaper, soccer and I’m part of a community service club, and I have a diverse group of friends. I think it’s OK to hang out with people who have the same background as you because sometimes that’s what is most comfortable, but I also think it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone. I would have never gotten to know the girl at Northwestern if I knew she was conservative. You miss out on a lot of experiences when you only hang out with people who are like you.