Who Exactly is Represented by the ChiArts Student Union?

"Fist" by Paul Sableman is licensed under Creative Commons.

When the student union formed at The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), the student population as a whole seemed happy with the concept, as dozens of students participated in the Student Union-organized sit-in to address racism against African American students, and dozens more wore black to show their support for the first sit-in in ChiArts history. But, as the Student Union develops, more and more students are developing less positive opinions on the Union as a whole. The problem discontented students have? Many feel that the Student Union doesn’t represent the voices of the entire student body.

Unions serve as a connection between people in power and the general population of a company or system. The ChiArts FY2016 Annual Report maintains that about 83 perecent of ChiArts is made up of minority students. The Student Union of ChiArts is striving to represent a diverse school with diverse demographics, through representatives who are mostly in one friend group, mostly in one conservatory, and through representatives who are majority African American.

The union, whose mission statement reads, “The student union is a student leadership organization that is currently oriented towards addressing social issues, and serves as a communication forum for staff and students,” can’t possibly address all of the diverse racial issues of the school if the union itself isn’t diverse. For example, there isn’t a representative who identifies as Asian or as a Pacific Islander despite that communities’ many complaints of racism at ChiArts.

When I asked whether or not there needs to be a representative who identifies as Asian or as a Pacific Islander, senior Noire Lin said, “I don’t think it’s a question of whether I think there ‘needs’ to be Asian American and / or Pacific Islander representation as much as it’s a do-I-want question. Of course, I think that there should be the representation, but not if it’s forced. Yes, I do want representation. Yes, I want to feel like my voice is being heard. But, to have representation on the Student Union just to ‘ensure diversity’ among the members? To make sure and force the idea that there’s every type of people of color in the Union? I don’t want it. I don’t want this token Asian American and / or Pacific Islander on the Student Union if it’s for the sake of being diverse instead of actually being an active voice in the conversation of racism and microaggressions. It’s more than I think there should rather than there needs to be.”

Lots of negative student feedback also comes from the apparent exclusivity of the Union itself. One senior who approached the Union after a school assembly expressed their frustration with how the Union only seemed to be open to certain people. After being added to a group chat for those who signed up to be a part of the Union, the student realized that the original Union representatives had made a separate group chat and conducted all of their business on that chat rather than on the one with the new members.

“That group chat was rendered irrelevant after they made a completely new one and left everyone else in the dark,” said the student, who asked to be anonymous.

Students at this school want to be a part a Union that represents them truthfully. The Union should be open to everyone at school and should represent everyone at school. Then, all of the unique voices at ChiArts can finally be heard.

The Student Union is working towards inclusivity though. Tuesday, February 27 at 1:10 p.m., there was a meeting open to all students at the school for people to join and be a part of the Union. So, as it opens up, it is up to the student body really to become involved, as the student body is the heart of change at this school.

Aisha June, member of the Student Union, said, “Making [the community better] comes from you.” So it is up to the students at ChiArts to fight for their social justice.

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