The Minority Opinion on St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes
by Nico Corica ‘21, Jeremy Young ‘24, & Julian Mosley ’21
St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes is a school with many different individuals who all have a wide range of ideas on the direction that the school should go when it comes to diversity and inclusivity issues both inside and outside the school community. In an effort to gain some insight on how some of our community members believe we should go about this, we have interviewed a mix of minority students, all varying in age and experience, and all of whom currently attend SSSAS.
We were interested to know whether or not students of color who attend SSSAS felt if they needed to change their personalities when they come to school every day. Eleventh grade student Jasiah Harris, who began his time as a Saint in the sixth grade, as well as freshman Giancarlo Gamarra, who arrived in the third grade, both stated that they don’t feel the need to change their personalities from home to school. Alex Galdamez, a junior, said otherwise. “Yeah. I think that...not even applying that part to race - I feel like I always have to act a certain way coming to this school. But I definitely don’t try to… when I’m having discussions with people, I don’t want to try to seem aggressive, ‘cause I don’t want to be labelled the angry brown kid who’s just, you know, trying to make a point or make everything about race, when it’s not that; it’s just, kind of, common knowledge that I’m trying to preach.”
Senior classman Irvine Madenga maintained that “If you want to fit in with certain people, yeah.”
The students interviewed were asked if they thought that SSSAS was diverse. Irvine stated “I think it is to an extent, but… there could be a much better job of other ethnicities being represented.”
Christian Borden, a fellow senior, had similar sentiments: “I think they could go a lot farther in getting different races since we don’t have that much of a Hispanic population, and… I mean, we have a growing black population, but we still could have a lot more African Americans. And you gotta think about the other races…” Jasiah said that he has seen an increase in diversity in all minorities except for Hispanics.
Alex, being a Hispanic member of the community, remarked, “at least for my grade, I feel like I’m the only kind of Latino person of color.” According to Mr. Kunz, head of admissions at the upper school, Hispanics are the second smallest minority at SSSAS only in front of Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Blunt in her answer, senior Jane Chen firmly denounced the idea that SSSAS is diverse. “I do not believe SSSAS is diverse at all. There is definitely not enough representation of certain groups of people and backgrounds.”
To be fair and give the interviewees a chance to say something positive, we asked them what they believed SSSAS does well in regards to addressing diversity in the community. Jane had this to say: “Something I think SSSAS does well when it comes to diversity is that we always keep trying to make improvements and that we are open to taking suggestions on how to better the diversity.” Jasiah also said he feels welcome in the community by the administrators, community, and parents. Giancarlo supported this, saying that he feels more comfortable in the Saint Stephen’s community than he did at his old school.
Christian Borden commended the school’s efforts. “I think that they do a lot of things well, like TextAboutIt, you got your… There's Multicultural Night, that’s always a nice time… They do a lot to respect the different cultures, and try to take steps to actually see how they can do better, ‘cause I know a lot of schools wouldn’t actually open up about how they’re handling race, or would say ‘we don’t need a board to talk about this. We don’t need a board of students.’ So I feel like their willingness and openness to learn more about how they can promote diversity, that’s something they do well.”
Some of the other students struggled to sing any praises. Irvine could not find an answer. “Um… I mean… nothing really pops out, you know? I really have to think through this one… I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say. Um…”
Alex Galdamez held a similar opinion. “I guess they have affinity groups, but at the same time that’s basically student led - at least for the Latinx affinity group; our teacher administrator doesn’t really do anything with that. But with diversity… I mean, I think that they have good intentions, but sometimes the way they execute things aren’t well executed. And yeah, maybe… They implemented those diversity conferences in middle school, so I guess that is really nice to see. But other than that, not much.”
A breakdown of the Upper School demographic was provided by Mr. Kunz. Thirty one percent of students are students of color, and this number has changed noticeably over the course of the last several years. “Sixteen years ago we were at about 25 to 27 percent students of color. We stayed stable at that number for a few years and then we dipped back down to 25 percent seven or eight years ago. Over the last five years the admissions group has increased the population of students of color.” One of the most noticeable changes is in the new students at the Upper School. About 40 percent of new students joining the upper school are students of color. This increase of students of color has allowed new ideas and experiences to be shared with the community.
When asked what they think Saint Stephen’s needs to improve on in order to further promote diversity, there was an array of answers. Mr. Kunz’ and the admissions office's goal is to lessen the gap between minority students and of white students at St. Stephen’s. Some of the ways they are doing this is by hosting receptions in places like Prince George's County and having it run by a current family. Over 60 families attended this reception last year. Another way they are working to create a more diverse community is by providing transportation for students that live in relatively distant areas in an effort to make Saint Stephen’s more accessible to families that don’t necessarily live close to the school.
Jasiah says he would like to see classrooms become more diverse. He says he often finds there to be only one person of color in each class. Irvine said the same thing. “In high school, I would appreciate to have more black students in my classes, ‘cause literally, this year, I’m like the only black person in every single one of my classes… It’s either I’m the only one, or there’s only one other one.” Giancarlo said that he wants people to learn about other cultures to help them better understand where people come from. This is something we all need to do if we want to make St. Stephen's and St. Agnes a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment.