By Kyle Kobetsky and Evangeline Si
The Summit Denali Queer Straight Alliance was started in the fall of 2018, with the intent of creating a safe space for queer kids at Denali. Around the time the QSA was formed, the school held a Club Fair, intending to promote different clubs or social gatherings within the Denali community.
During this time, clubs were encouraged to distribute flyers across campus. For many clubs, this was not a problem. For Denali QSA, they found all of their posters missing from the walls. Even the poster advertising on the specifically designated club wall was missing.
This was not the first or the last time the members of the QSA would experience normalized discrimination, but it resonated with them. Having contacted the administration and received what was essentially radio silence, the QSA members were left feeling ignored.
A founding member of the QSA, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “The administration at Denali has often tried to make things better for people of certain identities who seem to be on the receiving end of harassment. However, nothing they do seems to make a lasting change for those of us affected.” Many Denali minorities feel these microaggressions and instances of discrimination are becoming normalized without administrative action.
Emma Smith, a key member of the Queer Straight Alliance, commented on the normalized discrimination she experiences: “People say the ‘f’ slur a lot […] they also say the ‘r’ slur but that’s not [homophobic]. Both of those words make me uncomfortable and having them said like where I go to school is not great for me at all […] they are just, like ‘Hey don’t swear!’ and then [the administration thinks] that makes them not do that again. That is a lot more harmful than the thing, like bigger instances [of homophobia].”
This is one of many incidents of the administration at Summit Denali not providing for the different identities within the high school community. Similarly, a former student Zaid Yousef, had concerns about a lack of an adequate praying area. Over his year with Denali, these concerns were not suitably addressed to provide the practicing Muslim community with a regular or comfortable praying area.
“[The] main thing for the Muslim minority was the prayer issue […] when all the rooms were occupied, we had to pray separately within our class times,” Yousef said. As you can see from his feedback, he was not too happy with the administration’s efforts in solving their problem. We asked Laura Zado, the Dean of Instruction and Culture at Summit Denali, for a response toward Yousef’s complaints but she did not get back to us.
We also spoke with Ms. Zado about the minority groups at Denali and how the school works to provide for those with different needs or to prevent discrimination.
“Denali has done some in the past, like ‘what is bullying like’, […] ‘what does racism look like in today’s world’, ‘what does sexism look like in today’s world’ and I think that is something people touch on in classes, I would like to see students do more of that and to raise that awareness,” Ms. Zado responded.
Continuing her point, Ms. Zado said access to the curriculum and the projects needs to be improved. “I think we still have a ways to go in terms of making sure that particularly for students with, either learning differences or who English is not their first language. I think we have a long way to go in terms of providing access to that […] I think that is something our teachers are constantly working really hard with, I would say the other place I would really love to see — wanna push myself to, is bringing myself to kind of awareness events and programming to the school so different identity groups can get students together who are part of that identity group having them do some sort of celebration, presentation with the school.” Ms. Zado’s responses go to show that the administration does encourage awareness for the different identities of Summit Denali, but the students want them to take further action.
Denali has affirmed that one of their main focuses is on encouraging diversity in the community, but the response to hatred and bigotry falls short of their mission statement. However, this is not to say the administration of Denali willfully ignores the concerns of their diverse student body; but even with their current efforts, minorities are left feeling like second-class citizens in their community.
The situation at hand in Summit Denali is not purposeful lenience but an oversight due to frequent turnover, a lack of cultural competence and a diminished response to discrimination.
We then asked Ms. Zado how Denali deals with incidents that involve discrimination or harassment toward different identities in the community. “So the work that I do when we do hear about an incident [that] involves [minorities and homophobia/racism] really trying to understand what was at the core of that, and really try to get to what was the motivation and what was the rationale — just to help prevent it again and then we use something called restorative justice in order to bring in some logical consequences,” she replied.
The reaction from the administration of Summit Denali that students have personally experienced might not deliver the appropriate consequences for their targeting actions, but the lack of punitive justice reduces the awareness, respect and safety for the different identities in Denali’s community.
While the minority student population feels ignored, there is still room for a voice in the Denali community, emphasized by the welcoming student body and the encouragement of the staff.