History of Mason sees monumental increase in student diversity
Scott Reckers | Staff Writer
Diversity is a vital part of the community that the students of Mason High School value — but it hasn’t always been this way.
Today, about 3,500 students call the big green their home. There is a variety of race, religion, sexuality, and culture throughout the whole school. As recently as about 45 years ago, however, diversity was not even in the conversation. Gina Arens, a newsletter editor for the Mason Historical Society, graduated from Mason in 1975.
“I would say my class was not diverse,” Arens said. “I knew the only two Asian kids in school. I was good friends with one of them– we just looked at them as friends. It never crossed my mind that they looked a little bit different from me.”
According to AP Government and Politics teacher Maria Mueller, the increase was not gradual but rather sporadic. Mueller has been teaching at Mason for about 30 years. She has been through two buildings and seen the student body change — but the demographic didn’t shift right away. “When I started teaching, it was absolutely, most definitely, a less diverse population of students,” Mueller said. “I am pretty sure in 1991, when I started teaching here, I might have had one non-white student at the time. Overall I have seen an increase in the amount of students of color here.”
The families of these students moved here for a reason. Not that long ago — about 40 years ago — Mason looked a lot different: Tylersville Road was called Stitt Road, pay phones were on the street corners, and farmers fields were more numerous than neighborhoods. Mason was far more rural compared to the suburban environment we live in today. Arens attended MHS during this time. The effects of the rural environment led to a less diverse student body. She attributes the addition of diverse student groups to the development of the town itself.
“What brought diversity into the school was the businesses that came into Mason that started employing a lot of people, minorities included,” Arens said. “The influx of different cultures was a result of the job options and Mason as a community. When these families [got] a job at Proctor and Gamble (P&G) they [were] inclined to move to Mason, start a family, and send their kids to Mason.”
Before P&G opened their Mason location in 1995 the town was noticeably less diverse, according to the US Census there were only 81 citizens of Asian descent living in Mason in 1990. Just 20 years later, in 2010, there were 2757 reported citizens of Asian descent in Mason: a 3003% increase.
Once these new groups started showing up, they encountered students already used to Mason and its community. Mueller was in the classroom where these two student groups met for the first time. She did not believe the response was negative in any connotation, rather a natural human reaction to new communities impacting their everyday life.
“Early on there was what I would call concern,” Mueller said. But she watched the students get used to each other everyday in an “adjustment period,” until they were just part of the class.
In fact, the new students helped create variety in ideas and viewpoints. Mueller was in a unique position being a social studies teacher and she said that she was able to observe the views of new students.
“I have absolutely seen new perspectives enter the building,” Mueller said. “I am very well aware of how a history of a group of people impacts how one views each other. The increase in the diversity in the student population has definitely led to a much broader variety of views in the classroom.” More specifically, Mueller also realized with these new ethnicities, religions, and cultures, the new students brought with them new political views as well.
“I have taught government for 28 years here and I think students by nature are willing to share their thoughts to see if their peers agree with them,” Mueller said. “When everybody was living very similar lives they were much more likely to have the same ideals. With multiple cultures and religions, there is a much bigger difference in life experiences that could have shaped their views.”
As soon as the diverse students became comfortable in Mason they started branching out and aiming high. Mueller saw these groups of students starting to excel in Mason, claiming notable positions in activities they were involved in. “Once the students became confident they became more involved,” Mueller said. Because of this evolution, the students that now walk the halls of the high school have become and continue to be essential to a thriving student body.
“All different types of students are included, not just racially and ethnically but also religiously and in regards to sexual orientation,” Mueller added. “They are all well represented in leadership roles, clubs, and activities. As the school became more diverse, they became more comfortable with being leaders and standing out from the crowd [with] their own personal achievements and aspirations.”