Guilford Alumni Forum addresses race and diversity education

Opera singer


GUILFORD – Guilford High School graduates from the past decade and beyond recently came together in a Zoom webinar hosted by the Guilford Human Rights Commission to share their experiences both at Guilford and on the lack of education they say they received about the breed.

The event was hosted by Kara Fikrig, who graduated in 2011, as she said the alumni perspective is central to the conversation about the Board of Education and the curriculum. The district is working to increase social justice and equity work in schools.

In September, the district hired Rydell Harrison, a part-time family equity liaison to advocate for students, parents and guardians who feel they have been treated unfairly or unfairly within the school system because of identity or affiliation with race, ethnicity, sex and gender identity, sexuality or religion, depending on the neighborhood.

The Guilford Public School District also conducts a curriculum audit and participates in the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program, which focuses on recruiting, preparing and retaining teachers of color in elementary schools across the state.

School district communications director Lorri Hahn could not be reached on Friday to comment on Superintendent Paul Freeman’s thoughts on the forum at press time.

Fikrig said in a event recording that “the other speakers and I have all been through the Guilford school system relatively recently.”

“We then went to college and into the workforce, so we’re keenly aware of how our education has prepared us or left us unanswered for our next steps in life,” said Fikrig.

Fikrig said the alumni hoped that sharing personal stories would explain their passion for improving the education students receive by making diversity, equity and inclusion into the curriculum.

She shared her story with the group about her time at Yale, where she received her undergraduate degree. Fikrig said she believed racism was a thing of the past defeated in the civil rights era until her senior year when what she called a racial reckoning occurred on campus following the death by Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

“I did my best to support my best friend who was black, but ended up making it harder for her,” Fikrig said. “I continuously committed micro-assaults that I was completely unaware of, so I hurt her several times even as I tried to help her. Our friendship almost ended that year because she had to distance herself from me to protect her own sanity. “

She said she then educated herself and learned to identify microaggressions – indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. Fikrig said she was shocked at what she hadn’t learned and that the new knowledge had changed the way she viewed race and racism in the country.

Michael Roh, who graduated from Guilford High School in 2009 before attending Brown University, said he experienced racism in high school.

Roh was born in New York City, but his family moved to Seoul when he was young due to his father’s career. Her family then returned to the United States and they lived in Queens with her grandparents, and her mother, a classically trained opera singer, became a nail salon technician to support the family.

They moved to Guilford because of the schools.

Roh, an American of Korean descent from a family of multigenerational Korean immigrants, said he painfully remembers being ashamed of his identity. He said he was often reminded of his minority status in a predominantly white city.

This included the use of stereotypes by students, he said.

Roh said that although Guilford High School gave him the education his grandparents dreamed of when they fled North Korea, he believes the program can better serve students not only for college, but also for personal and professional life by incorporating more diversity, equity and inclusion.

Courtney Streeto, a 2012 graduate psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, said as a child she thought she was racist because she saw other people’s skin color despite hearing the phrase “often” I do not see the color “in town.

“It wasn’t until I left GHS and went to college in New Haven that I realized seeing color wasn’t really racist, but imperative in creating an environment where everyone can enjoy. of the benefits of the company, ”Streeto said. “And by saying that we don’t see color, we’re playing down the very real struggles of people of color and the disparities they potentially still face today.”

Streeto said that in health care there are still disparities, some of which stem from a historical base of mistrust of the government.

Streeto specifically cited Tuskegee’s experience, in which black men with syphilis were unaware of the treatments available so that the effects of untreated syphilis could be studied and the impact of segregation.

Some elders shared their stories of struggling to come to terms with their identity, such as being bisexual, queer or transgender.

Eliza Summerlin, who talks about their pronouns, said it took them 12 years after graduation to come to terms with their identity.

“I thought so much about my time in Guilford and my time in high school, and how those identities weren’t brought up anyway, if it was talked about it wasn’t acceptance and love, ”Summerlin said. “It was like they were unusual and bizarre ways of existing in the world and it was really painful for me for a long time.”

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