Inclusive excellence team promotes diversity and inclusion

Alana Amaya | Staff Writer

Kaelyn Rodrigues | Managing Editor

Mason High School (MHS) is taking a new step towards creating a more welcoming environment through the Inclusive Excellence (IE) Student Leadership Team.

This year, the IE Student Leadership Team was created to elevate student voices, especially regarding the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, while establishing a peer-to-peer support system for students facing discrimination or bias.

In the early stages of the team’s creation, it was initially planned to be a staff-only group. Robyn Jordan, Associate Principal of Teaching and Learning, supported the idea of a student leadership team because she believed it would be more beneficial in “creat[ing] a community where every student feels like they belong regardless of race, gender, religion, and sexual [orientation].”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Learning Experience Designer at Mason City Schools, Soroya Smith, believes that having the opportunity to approach a peer rather than a staff member could make students feel more comfortable. “I wanted the student voice to be part of the learning that was going to take place,” Smith said.

On Saturday, November 14, the 14 members of the IE Student Leadership Team took part in a four-hour training course where they learned valuable leadership skills regarding racism. They were taught how to detect microaggressions, identify racist remarks, and step up to bias, among other strategies. 

Junior Manasvi Guduru, a member of the leadership team, said one important message emphasized throughout the training is speaking up when you see bias occurring. 

“When you are a bystander in a situation, you’re allowing the person who is using a derogatory term to think that whatever mistake they are making is okay, when in reality, they’re harming a certain marginalized population,” Guduru said.

Guduru said she was also taught to “make sure that [they are] not coming on too strong [and] not labeling someone as racist or sexist.” Making sure that the behavior is being correctly identified and responded to rather than “just categorizing them,” is an idea that was heavily stressed, according to Guduru.

After personally experiencing instances of racism, senior Vivian Tran, another member of the leadership team, applied to the team to encourage inclusivity at Mason through her own knowledge and experiences. According to Tran, the concept of inclusive excellence highlights the phrase, “If you hear something, say something,” encouraging students at MHS to take action against instances of racism and bias they may experience or observe. 

One aspect of taking action for members of the leadership team includes utilizing the strategies they were taught on how to deal with bias. “The question[ing], the interrupting, the echo, and then educating: those are the strategies that we have taught our students to be able to step up to the biased,” Smith said. “It’s being able to have a deep understanding of what racism is and learning about how racism manifests.”

Although members of the IE student leadership team are available to support their peers, they are not expected to directly solve problems, but rather provide students with the knowledge and resources they need and encourage them to report instances of bias or discrimination to the SafeSchools tip-line, if applicable.

Ultimately, Tran believes that in many cases, when bias takes the form of hurtful or discriminatory comments, it stems from misinformation or ignorance rather than genuine hatred. Tran is hopeful that as part of the team, she will be able to spread knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion to combat misinformation.

“A lot of the time people make these negative comments because they have a lack of understanding of these topics,” Tran said. “[We aim to] educate more about these topics so that it won’t happen again, so [students] will feel more included and welcome at school.”

Graphic by Scott Reckers