Fostering stronger bonds

Student body diversity grows, Roncalli responds with programs focused on inclusivity

WE+CARE%3A+Seniors+Elijah+Mahan%2C+Sarah+Hayden%2C+Chelsea+Nguyen%2C+and+Nellie+Nnatubuego+and+junior+Angie+Snow+along+with+several+other+students+are+part+of+Roncalli%E2%80%99s+We+CARE+initiative.+This+group+began+with+the+goal+of+making+Roncalli+a+more+welcoming+and+comfortable+environment+for+students+of+minority+background.%0A
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Fostering stronger bonds

WE CARE: Seniors Elijah Mahan, Sarah Hayden, Chelsea Nguyen, and Nellie Nnatubuego and junior Angie Snow along with several other students are part of Roncalli’s We CARE initiative. This group began with the goal of making Roncalli a more welcoming and comfortable environment for students of minority background.

WE CARE: Seniors Elijah Mahan, Sarah Hayden, Chelsea Nguyen, and Nellie Nnatubuego and junior Angie Snow along with several other students are part of Roncalli’s We CARE initiative. This group began with the goal of making Roncalli a more welcoming and comfortable environment for students of minority background.

Photo by Elizabeth Bradley

WE CARE: Seniors Elijah Mahan, Sarah Hayden, Chelsea Nguyen, and Nellie Nnatubuego and junior Angie Snow along with several other students are part of Roncalli’s We CARE initiative. This group began with the goal of making Roncalli a more welcoming and comfortable environment for students of minority background.

Photo by Elizabeth Bradley

Photo by Elizabeth Bradley

WE CARE: Seniors Elijah Mahan, Sarah Hayden, Chelsea Nguyen, and Nellie Nnatubuego and junior Angie Snow along with several other students are part of Roncalli’s We CARE initiative. This group began with the goal of making Roncalli a more welcoming and comfortable environment for students of minority background.

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The largely homogeneous nature of Roncalli’s history is no secret, and the southside of Indianapolis has perhaps infamously remained lacking in racial diversity for decades. However, Roncalli’s population is growing in a profound, albeit small, manner as the minority enrollment has increased from just three percent (which it hovered around from 2000 to 2012) to almost 14 percent today.

With this growth in diversity comes a necessary growth in mindset. Having such a predominantly Caucasian staff and student body for so long results in an unfamiliarity that can easily foster varying forms of discrimination whether consciously done or not.

“[Students] have been around white Catholics on the southside for their whole lives,” senior Elijah Mahan said. “Then they hear rap music and think that they can say and do certain things.”

This is not to say that all members of the Roncalli community are intentionally and consciously prejudiced, simply that like every other person in the world, members of the community hold an implicit bias in some form, partly due to their lack of exposure to people of other ethnicities.

Implicit bias is formed as early as three years old, and implicit bias is not a conscious form of discrimination or hatred; this form of bias is completely involuntary, but bias and discrimination are detrimental to a community no matter the state of intentionality involved. This is why simply learning to recognize and make a conscious effort against implicit bias is so important. So important, in fact, that the Roncalli staff underwent an implicit bias workshop before the 2018-2019 school year.

“This program was designed to help us be intentionally cognizant of our biases and how they might play out in how we treat each other, how we do our work, and how we respond to the world,” principal Mr. Chuck Weisenbach said.

The Peace Learning Center, a local organization, provided a workshop for all of the staff at the beginning of this school year, and about 20 staff members and counting have attended an “Undoing Racism”two-day workshop put on by a national organization called the People’s Institute.

Equally as important as promoting acceptance among teachers is doing so among students. For the first time, Roncalli is offering an ethnic studies course taught by Mrs. Beth Reel.

“My hope is that students will be able to view social interactions through a lens of empathy and understanding,” Reel said. “It’s hard to relate to each other when we haven’t had shared experiences; our study of diverse groups will help us be tolerant and respectful of all people.”

Reel volunteered to teach the course, saying that she “is excited to facilitate the dialogue that accompanies learning about our diverse society,” and Reel isn’t the only one excited about this new course. Many other students like senior Jenna Shearer see the value that ethnic studies can hold for them in life beyond Roncalli’s halls.

“It is important to take this class because the real world is so much more diverse than Roncalli,” Shearer said. “And we need to know how to navigate the world in a respectful way.”

Dialogue has also begun to form between several students of minority backgrounds and RHS staff through the We CARE program. Assistant principal for student life Mr. Kevin Banich has been meeting with these students once a month this school year to facilitate discussion on what the school can be doing to create a more inclusive environment and to allow minority students to share their experiences.

“What I’m most proud of is that we right now have some great dialogue happening between our students and our school,” Banich said. “I would like for students to know how much we appreciate their openness with us.”

Even more than being grateful for students’ willingness to work with the staff and highlight prominent areas in need of improvement, staff members expressed hopes that Roncalli’s demographic expansion continues.

“There is so much beauty to be found in the different cultures that reflect God’s divine creation,” Weisenbach said. “We would be silly not to want to be as richly diverse as possible, because that’s the makeup of God’s family.”

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