Students discuss diversity in light of social justice

Wednesday, April 04, 2018 - Updated: 9:15 am

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Even though Andres Recalde was born in Pittsburgh, people have asked him where he’s from. And while he is of Hispanic descent, he has been asked if he is from India. And he has heard the derogatory references to convenience store clerks.

He knows the importance of standing up for others and challenging prejudice.

The Bishop Canevin High School student was among the speakers at a High School Social Justice Symposium March 26 at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton. Some two dozen students from four schools — Central Catholic, Oakland Catholic, Serra Catholic and Bishop Canevin — convened under the theme of “Experience Diversity.”

The gathering was facilitated by members of the Crusaders for Justice program at Bishop Canevin. Sessions centered on racial diversity, gender diversity and socio-economic diversity.

Recalde’s presentation focused on racial diversity. He wore a hoodie from the March for Our Lives, which he attended two days earlier in Washington.

Bishop Canevin’s Olivia Clark touched on gender diversity by noting terms such as “white feminism,” “racist sexism” and “white savior complex.” People can be “color blind” and yet still racist, she noted, because they do not understand the struggles of others.

“It’s all about having an educated view of what other people are going through,” Clark said.

Joel Skelley addressed socio-economic diversity by noting that while 14 percent of white children live below the poverty line in the United States, the figure climbs to 39 percent for African-American children and 33 percent for Latino children. African-American children also are more likely to attend under-funded schools. 

“We all have a voice, but what matters is how we use it,” he said of the need to address the issues. Skelley also traveled to Washington for the March for Our Lives.

A keynote address was given by Dr. Greta Stokes Tucker of the diocesan Office for Parish Services. She questioned the students on the diversity of their churches, their neighborhoods and the organizations to which they belong. Perceptions of other people, she stated, are often based on erroneous assumptions.

If we are serious about addressing social justice issues, Tucker noted, we must reflect on themes of Catholic social teaching.

“Each person is sacred,” she said. “God has created human life.” It is the foundation and basis for a moral society, she added, and it instructs us to confront injustices that we see.

Tucker spoke of the responsibility we have to positively impact the lives of one another. She pointed out that a key factor will be how the students take what they learned at the symposium back to their schools. 

“It’s not comfortable,” she said. “It is not warm and fuzzy words like babies and puppies.”

If the young people want to be advocates on issues, they must study them and know what they are talking about. People will question them, Tucker noted, and if they are to respond in a positive way they must have a solid foundation rooted in Catholic social teaching, which comes from faith.

“Enter prayerfully,” she said. “If you’re going to be an advocate, it is your faith in action.”

Jayla Ellis, a junior at Oakland Catholic, noted that students often get so caught up in their own issues that they don’t see the problems of others. The symposium helped open her eyes, she said, to a selfless approach that will help her share with those from other backgrounds.

“It’s just the first step to creating the change,” she said.

Bishop Canevin student Chuck Radaczky said the presenters didn’t just talk about why people should support diversity, but helping the young people refine their beliefs. They see much on social media and they often don’t have a full grasp of the realities.

“Something like this sows the seeds for making a difference,” he said.

At a Catholic school like Bishop Canevin, Radaczky noted, there are a lot of students with similar backgrounds, and yet there are a lot of differences when it comes to mindset on social issues. Gatherings like the symposium help generate discussion.

“We’re educating ourselves as well as educating others and figuring out how to widen our views,” he said.

Sean Fox is a teacher at Bishop Canevin and serves as moderator for the Crusaders for Justice. The program ties into the school’s charism of Ignatian spirituality, which includes a focus on social justice, he noted. The idea for it was born after some students attended a conference on social issues. Some 30 to 40 take part in activities. 

Last fall, they lobbied on immigration reform and are examining issues to lobby in support of in the near future.

“It shows the fact that they truly get what it means to care for the other,” Fox said.

He added that their activities reinforce the idea that they are old enough to care and breaks stigmas that prevent them from having a voice.

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