Equity committee created to combat hate at South


Illustration by Patsy Carolan

Jessie Norwood and Olivia Perkins

After instances involving the use of the n-word and f-slur last year, Mark Maranto, assistant principal for student activities, and Matthew Bertke, sponsor of Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), formed a committee of students focusing on equity.

Created to discuss equity regarding race, sexuality, gender identity and religion, the committee consists of students from numerous clubs such as Black Student Union (BSU) and Jewish Student Union.

“We talked to all of the club sponsors who have clubs focused on equity in some way shape or form so everything from Middle East North Africa Club to SAGA,” Bertke said. “All of those kinds of umbrella equity identity clubs, we started there as a base point.”

Student representative for Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR), Luka Heidari stressed that the group addresses equity concerns throughout South by making a group effort.

“More and more have we seen a rise in inequitable situations, interactions and dialogue throughout the school environment,” Heidari said. “Student equity team (SET) is crucial in tackling the issues we see throughout South, from a student’s lens.”

A student equity collective was being created  last year, but was put on hold due to the pandemic. Maranto recently approached Bertke in an effort to reestablish the committee, and in hopes of becoming a co-sponsor with another trusted adult.

“I really wanted to reboot, but also rebrand that idea and Mr. Bertke was the natural choice [for] co-facilitating because he’s an instructional coach,” Maranto said. “It’s really great to have a thoughtful partner in creating [the committee] and also for the students to have two touch points in the building to talk about these pretty complex topics.”

Discussions about equity among faculty and staff have occurred for the last few years, however, both Bertke and Maranto expressed the need for students to finally be involved in the conversation.

“Mr. Bertke and I both have at some point in our adult equity cohort voiced [the] need to involve students in this discussion [because] these issues affect them,” Maranto said. “Everything we do is for our students [and] we need to involve them in some way.”

Currently, equity members are working towards building the committee’s foundation and discussing the future of this group. Although they are sponsors of the committee, Bertke and Maranto have taken a step back and are letting the students take the lead in this endeavor.

“Right now what we’re doing is setting the stage for our club purpose and our club norms,” Bertke said. “Mr. Maranto and I had ideas of the direction we wanted the committee [to go in], but the committee is the one shaping what we will be doing, how we will be acting, and how we’re going to be treating one another.”

Representing Black Student Union (BSU) with SET, J Betts said the true importance of having a bridge between the student body and administration when it comes to handling situations of inequity.

“It empowers students who may otherwise feel overlooked or helpless and shines a light upon unique challenges within the student body the admin may not be aware of,” Betts said.

Betts has experience with being involved in a similar group in which students are encouraged to voice their opinions and tackle ongoing issues.“I think that there’s a mutual understanding that I owe it to South to speak up for the community I represent,” Betts said. “In return, South owes me the decency to listen and attempt to change its policies in accord with my feedback.”