As critical conversations about equity and representation are finally being held across the nation, many of us have begun to evaluate more closely through our own personal lives and the organizations we belong to.
As an organization seeking to represent all MCPS High School students, this conversation becomes all the more crucial in the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association (MCR-SGA).
MCR is working diligently to recognize the disparities and systematic flaws within the organization; beginning discussions in executive board meetings and speaking directly to students that have been affected. Instead of only having these conversations among the represented, MCR realizes and continues to recognize that including the voices of the underrepresented is so important in the process.
In a conducted interview by the Public Relations Department, Deputy Abigail Leibowitz sat down with DCC students: Christain Estrada (Senior at Northwood HS) and Avery Smedley (Senior at Einstein High School) and NEC students: Alex Nguyen (Junior at Springbrook High School), Quynhan Nguyen (Sophomore at Blake High School), Holly Tran (Junior at Paint Branch High School), and Ria Endishaw (Sophomore at Springbrook High School) to bring the voices from the DCC and NEC clusters- historically underrepresented regions- to the table.
An underlying theme among all those interviewed was the lack of MCR and MCJC outreach, close to no transparency about what MCR actually does, no consulting students on issues affecting them, unintentional advertising, and an intimidating and exclusive culture.
When asked if students at their schools know what MCR is, Chistain said absolutely not- “maybe 7% of Northwood students have ever heard of it.” Alex pointed out that only students from SGAs or class council at Springbrook know what it is, and even within mococonnects, only a few knew what MCR was. Quynhan mentioned that “despite a strong activism culture at Blake, barely anyone knows what it is, ultimately accounting for no MCR applications from Blake High School.” Avery acknowledged that Einstein is segregated by race, at that “while the white kids at Einstein might know of MCR, students of color and especially ESOL students have never heard of it.”
In order to improve publicity/outreach to DCC schools and recruit more DCC students, Christain and Avery alike suggested using teachers. Christian mentioned that “communicating to staff to spread the word is crucial- teachers and staff are our main information resources.” Further, he advocated a “MCR minute” similar to the SMOB minute. Quynhan suggested getting actual students from underrepresented areas to recruit students from their area, as students are much more receptive to their own community and friends- after all, Quynhan had heard about MCR from her friends in the NEC. Alex suggested that MCR needs to inform students of the issues going on in the county. He elaborated that “if NEC students know about the boundary study, the anti-racism audit, SROS, they would get involved. Students don’t know that SRO’s are in schools so they don’t care. If they knew, they would be in favor of removing them.”
Christain disclosed his feelings saying, “a lot of the time MCR is talking about ‘we want to desegregate schools’ and ‘end the opportunity gap” but he has “never seen notable change or outreach- students at RM are talking about our problems and how to fix them, like saviors. AND, this talk is often heard around election season and then they never reach out again.” This is exactly why MCR is striving to recognize DCC and NEC students in engaging in these conversations.
In order to understand the actual concerns of DCC and NEC students, various tools can and should be utilized. Christian suggested circulating surveys to the DCC that SGAs can share with the student body and share with their friends. Further, he advocated hosting more events at DCC schools and making these events open to all students while including a same day registration option. This will immediately engage students' interest as they are coming into school and students who otherwise never would have been exposed to MCR would begin to get curious. Alex similarly expressed that points of contact should go beyond SGA’s- student task forces at NEC schools should be established to communicate student concerns.
In addition to better understanding the concerns of the DCC/NEC, hosting events in closer proximity will make MCR significantly more inclusive and accessible. Quynhan explained that when “MCR was in Rockville on Tuesday night at 7 PM, there was no way a student in NEC with working parents could make it to those meetings.”
Avery detailed that the first step in representing DCC concerns is transparency- an essential tool that she sees as a huge problem in MCR. Avery said: “Delegates and representatives need to consult schools and ask how they should vote. I have never heard anyone ask Einstein how their representatives should vote.” She further elaborated that even being more transparent and implementing more outreach tools, Avery is still very privileged being from the middle class knowing these resources would reach her much more easily than the most affected students and MCR needs to make intentional effort. Holly similarly expressed that “although there are people from Paint Branch in MCR, they don’t relay that info back, and we don’t know issues being talked about at the table.”
In addition to implementing outreach tools and increasing transparency, Avery expressed that the MCR culture should change- the first rules of community organizing is people power and creating a space welcome to everyone who wants to join. MCR, however, has a reputation of “exclusivity and people are pushed away, especially those who haven’t been involved since MCJC because there is no process to keep students up to speed.” Along these lines, Christian mentioned that he feels as if “if you did not start in 6th grade, come out of the womb with student advocacy” MCR is inaccessible to you. Therefore, he advocates MCJC outreach as a crucial component to recruiting DCC students into student advocacy and addressing this culture. He says “if MCJC reaches out to DCC middle schools such as SSI and E Brooke Lee, this will get them started early” and give them the head start students from RM and other schools have had for so long.
Alex also stated he feels MCR is only friendly to MCR members. In order to connect to actual students at NEC schools, MCR should look past SGAs and connect directly to the student body because SGA is not representative of the student body. Further, he advocated addressing the qualifications barrier many students feel. Ria and Avery similarly elaborated on the imposter syndrome that many students of color and DCC students feel in settings such as MCR.
While the road towards representation and inclusivity is winding, bumpy, and complicated, listening to DCC and NEC voices and taking their suggestions is the first step. We recognize the work we have to do, and commit to combating each hurdle that stands in the way of representation.
Written by Abby Leibowitz
Published by PR Department