SHRC promotes anti-racist and equitable work

by Ariana Bhargava & Adriene Lirio, Features Contributors
graphic by Emily Zhang

Sophomore Wasan Rafat said being a member of the South Human Rights Council (SHRC) allows her to use her voice to advocate for change. 

“Doing work and being aware of the problems, not just those that happen at South, and not just in Newton, but in the entire country,” she said, “I have a voice.”

English teacher Joana Chacon and history teacher Robert Parlin started the SHRC last April in response to the hypervisibility of racism following the Zoom bombing of an AP Chinese class and the police murder of George Floyd; now, the two serve as co-chairs. Chacon said the SHRC aims to meet and protect the rights of all members of the community through proactive and responsive measures.

The council is divided into four committees: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); Culturally Responsive Curriculum (CRC); Communications; and Professional Development (PD). The DEI committee seeks to facilitate cultural celebrations and support the work of affinity groups. The CRC committee aims to develop an antiracist curriculum across all departments. The communications committee maintains social media engagement. The PD committee promotes and creates trainings around antiracism, equity and inclusion.

Any member of the community — faculty, staff or student — is welcome to join a committee at any point throughout the year.

Parlin said that oppression and injustice run deep in communities with priviledge.

“Racial injustice and oppression of all non-majority groups are present in the United States, but they are really present at Newton South as well,” he said. “We want to take action to change that.”

Chacon said that racism’s systemic nature warrants a systemic response.

“Human rights to me means that every community, all our marginalized communities, are thriving, living their best life and engaging with each other to create one bigger community,” she said.

Chemistry teacher and DEI committee co-chair Suzy Drurey said that the SHRC’s success requires full community engagement.

“SHRC has had a positive impact on South because we’re inclusive of not just the students, but the whole staff and faculty,” she said. “You really have to change the community in order to have these human rights initiatives go forward.” 

The council allows students to delve deeper into their interests, discussing relevant issues with staff and faculty members. Senior Matan Kruskal said he joined the curriculum committee to combat and raise awareness about language endangerment.

“Before we even get people to respect other people’s culture, we need to first make sure that there’s a culture left to respect,” he said. “Sometimes people are so intolerant of other people’s culture that they start to destroy it.”

Drurey said the council welcomes all students who are interested in helping advocate for equality.

“I invite more students to come and see what it’s like,” she said. “This is here for them, so if they want to find ways to help, affect change and be active in human rights, then come on in.”

Chacon said she believes the council will be instrumental in advocating for human rights and equity.

“Take a look at this one year, two years, three years, four years down the line,” she said. “Our hope is to make this an institution.”

Parlin said he hopes the council and its legacy will be long-living. 

“This will be an umbrella organization to try to coordinate all the different efforts we’re making as a school to fight racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, islamophobia, etc.,” he said. “We hope that by raising awareness, really having this as the key focus for the year and changing the school culture to be more welcoming and inclusive, all students —not just the white students, not just students who are from wealthy backgrounds — but everyone, will feel [like] part of the community.”