Spiritually Separated, Student Experiences

A three part series focusing on diversity in ELHS; Part I: Prejudices of religious students


Whether or not you say “Hare Krishna,” “Amen,” or nothing at all, spirituality affects everyone. Despite America’s considerable improvement in religious acceptance over the past century, there is still progress that needs to be made, especially in the public school system.

     “[Intolerance] is often ignorance, not necessarly hatred — take the mock lynching [That occurred during the Spirit Week of the 2016-2017 year] for example. Either way, we still need to get into a better place,” said ELHS Library Media Specialist Jeannine Barber. 

     There are several students throughout the school who feel the same, particularly students who come from different cultures, such as sophomore Saayda Sajid. 

         “Like most Muslims, I’ve experienced a bit of Islamophobia. One time someone called me a terrorist after I sneezed in class. Other times people make inconsiderate remarks like saying my religion oppresses women or that ‘all terrorists are Muslim,’” said Sajid.

     These remarks didn’t mean much to Sajid as a child, but “as you grow older, these [offensive comments] begin to form into insecurities.”

     Like Sajid, junior Isbaah Khan has similar recollections from her childhood: “The first time I can recall feeling different was Culture Day in elementary school. I remember everyone coming to school in their regular clothes and I came in with a full outfit and henna…Everyone was so freaked out,”

     While these circumstances are unfortunate, they are all too common. According to a 2014 survey by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relationships, 55 percent of Muslim students surveyed reported experiencing bullying based on their religious identity while at school. 

     This is not to say that western society hasn’t improved since the days of religious war and segregation.

        History teacher Willard Reed said,“Particularly in this school, I find the teens to be much more tolerant [than in my high school]. Things aren’t as ‘clique-y.’ However, I still think my generation was better than my father’s generation.”    

     In a predominantly white school, students have started to notice the lack of diversity. 

     “I think there’s much more religious awareness. I went to Waterford in the ‘80s and tolerance wasn’t on anyone’s mind. I worked at EL in the ‘90s, ‘00s, and ‘10s, and students are very aware. Students are noticing how they don’t get to experience or meet many people of different cultures,” said Ms. Barber.

      Sophomore Daniel Sapozhnikov is cognizant of the small population of Jewish students, but doesn’t feel affected. 

     “Though I have a couple friends who are Jewish, they’re few and far between. I feel unique, but definitely not alienated.”

    Though ELHS has promoted tolerance with programs like REACH and school-wide assemblies, there seems to be a few improvements which could be made to create a more educated and respectful environment.

     “If everyone were to understand that the basis of every religion doesn’t tolerate those [extremist] things, and that the word ‘extremist’ means they [the extremists] take things out of context, we would have a better understanding on how to differentiate those groups,” said Khan.

     With Sajid’s very simple advice, the nation could make great strides towards plurality by “having an open mind, trying not to be rude, and apologizing if you accidently say something offensive.”

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