Op-Ed – Defending Northside’s Community in Response to HateB
By Kenny Larson
The Northside community has long prided itself on its inclusive and accepting culture. Students and teachers alike engage in rigorous discussions from a multitude of perspectives; I-Night performances epitomize the diversity of the student body. In many ways, this heterogeneity is what distinguishes Northside as a unique institution, allowing it to stand out among other Chicago high schools.
As a Northsider myself, I always believed that our school was insulated against discriminatory violence. Throughout the past year, I have heard stories about other Chicago area schools becoming racially divided and corroded by this toxicity. Naively, I was slow to accept the possibility that these ideals were capable of infiltrating my school. My inherent focus on optimism trapped me in a sense of denial, most likely as a result of my privilege as a white student. But recently, I made an important realization – Northside’s “protective bubble” has popped; the hostile, outside world is our reality.
As Northsiders and Americans, we live in an era defined by divisive rhetoric: xenophobic cries to imprison immigrants, white supremacist rallies, and seemingly endless political polarization. The Trump administration has significantly contributed to the promotion of these dangerous ideals, even advocating for an aggressive expansion of border security designed to prevent the world’s most impoverished peoples from seeking refuge. Now, these sentiments have undeniably infiltrated our community. A few weeks ago, a Northside student was targeted by anti-Semitic speech while some students organized a white power group.
It is clear that Northside is facing an existential threat to the very fabrics of its community – hateful division.
Although school administrators are currently investigating these incidents, our response as a student body is quintessential to affecting real change. Left unchecked, poisonous hate speech and action only becomes more toxic. Ensuring that we have a unified response will allow us to change mindsets and shape our community into one other schools can model. As such, I offer two strategies for confronting our school’s expanding divide—
First, we must encourage open dialogue. Despite our community’s vehement disagreement to the ideals that hate culture represents, remaining dogmatically unwilling to listen to others makes changing minds impossible. Discrimination and otherization often stem from a lack of exposure to people of other races or ethnicities. Fundamentally, discussion allows people of differing perspectives to interact and understand the positions of others. With perseverance and persistence, communication will not only function to change minds, but to strengthen the very bonds of the Northside community itself.
Furthermore, Northsiders should remain motivated to fight for change even in the face of daunting challenges. In the wake of violence, developing the courage to shift mindsets and fight for reform can frequently seem like an incredibly lofty challenge – and oftentimes it is. The road to change is one that is long-fought and seemingly never-ending; but, even in the face of overwhelming fatigue, we must rely on each other to carry on the struggle. The strength of the Northside community rests in its resilience and willingness to work as one in the face of opposition.
These solutions are not an end-all be-all to address racism and discrimination in Northside. Admittedly, even these suggestions may sometimes prove to be impossible, although that does not mean they should not be utilized. As we continue to reflect on and respond to the violence afflicting our community, it is essential to remain optimistic and strive for unity. The actions of some are not indicative of Northside’s values; in the face of hate, pessimism is an easy answer, but not the solution.
It is likely that we will not experience the end of discrimination in our lifetimes, but we should still strive to resolve it whenever possible. For the sake of ourselves, our peers, and future Northsiders, taking action now is essential to ensure our school’s status as an accepting and welcoming institution.