Smiling faces beam in the hallways, sounds of laughter echoing off the walls as students shuffle to their classes. This is a common scene in the halls of Atholton—the reason why so many see this school as a safe haven for the ones who do not fit the norms of society. But one must wonder: Is this perception the truth? Or is Atholton High School a facade masking the darker reality within?
“I think it’s at times, very accepting… but there are times when you can clearly tell that there’s some kind of discrimination going on. But in general, it’s pretty great,” said Senior Giles Oji.
This question of inclusivity has come as Howard County has been making a big push towards more inclusivity and diversity in its schools. This county is very passionate about making schools more welcoming for students of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It has done a lot to address the issues of bullying and discrimination against certain groups of students and is often praised for its diversity and acceptance of those students. In fact, HCPSS was just named one of the best employers for diversity in the country by Forbes Magazine. Atholton High School, specifically, has taken many actions towards ensuring that their students have been heard- from holding assemblies to the creation of new clubs and organizations, such as Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club, Black Student Union, Muslim Student Union, Bully Free Forever Club, and many more which work towards creating a safe space where minority students can feel accepted.
Although Atholton may be seen by many as very inclusive, it still has its ways to go. Many praise this school as being very inclusive, especially compared to other schools, and those who think that Atholton has definitely improved in diversity and acceptance of its minority students, but there are still many issues that haunt the school from segregation to the teasing and even bullying of students because of who they are. There are many students who truly see a very different story than others on whether or not Atholton is as accepting as it seems.
One specific group is the followers of Islam. There are many Muslim students who feel that they are not treated well at Atholton because of the religion they follow.
“I just don’t think that people understand what a Muslim is. I gave a speech last year at BFF club, hoping that people would understand that it’s kind of offensive when they call us all terrorists and make fun of us, but they still do it…” said Layanne Khaskia of the Muslim Student Union.
Junior Faraz Karim, another Muslim student, also voiced his opinion saying, “A lot of people make jokes. If you’re in the hallway, someone might yell ‘Allah ‘Akbar’ which means ‘God is the greatest’ but people have stereotyped it to something like ISIS. I think that people know it’s a joke, but I think even still it’s not right to do that.”
It is also hard for certain students of the LGBT community, especially transgender students.
Senior Erin Lea, the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club explained that for students with different sexualities, it can be much more accepting for them, but that it is much harder for transgender students, saying that some are “bullied a lot.”
Finally, there is the issue of de facto segregation in classrooms. Typically, in G/T and A/P classes, the students are predominantly of Caucasian and Asian ethnicities, and in regular or honors classes, the students tend to be predominantly of African American or Hispanic ethnicities.
Senior Rahel Petros mentioned how students tend to “divide on racial lines.”
Despite the issues of acceptance, however, there are many who think that Atholton has done a great job in terms of inclusivity of its students.
“In my 11 years, it’s been pretty inclusive; it’s gotten better over the years,” said Atholton assistant principal Ms. Adrienne Nasir.
There are those who praise the staff for giving students equal opportunities to participate in discussions.
Atholton Senior and BSU president, Bayee-Nbang Agbor-Baiyee, discussed how the staff help to create a safe space where “all of our voices are heard.”
Atholton is also seen as very inclusive compared to other Howard County schools.
BSU member and senior Rahel Petros mentioned how Atholton as a student body is a lot more inclusive than other schools in Howard County.
In the past, Atholton has dealt with discrimination against certain groups of people. There was tension a few years ago following an incident on social media, and a few decades ago, there had been a problem with redistricting, but through having healthy conversations while educating its students, Atholton has bounced back from these issues and now strives to be more inclusive towards its minority students.
There are many events coming up in the school year which will focus on inclusivity, such as the Black Student Union assembly and the BFF assembly. There is also a new idea being introduced by Dr. Martirano, the HCPSS superintendent, called student circles. Student Circles is an activity in which students form a circle where they have conversations and learn about each other. This way, students can be exposed to different cultures and see other perspectives, which will, in turn, help them understand these ethnicities and cultures better and strengthen their bonds as a diverse community.
“Part of the whole purpose of that is to get the students to come together,” said Ms. Dawn Tache.
There are many administrative actions which could be taken to solve certain issues of inclusivity at Atholton, but in the end, it all comes down to the choices made by individuals on how they will treat minority students. So, to the Atholton student body, this can only be summed up in the words of the assistant principal, Ms. Nasir: “You need to look through lenses of others before you’re quick to judge and I think that would help if all of us do that—stop and be patient and not be so reactionary and always quick to judge.”