Hello Gen Z… It’s Equity Speaking

In my sophomore year of high school in North Carolina, I was invited to sit alongside a handful of upperclassmen and collaborate on how to better celebrate the diversity that exists within my school. The outcome of this meeting was the establishment of an Equity Council.

Chanikarn Thongsupa

LBJ Library

Brendan Smialowski, Agence France-Presse

The Blog
The Blog

Hello Gen Z… It’s Equity Speaking

By Emory Leonhardt

In my sophomore year of high school in North Carolina, I was invited to sit alongside a handful of upperclassmen and collaborate on how to better celebrate the diversity that exists within my school. The outcome of this meeting was the establishment of an Equity Council. I feel so lucky to have been part of this dynamic group—and I’m still so thankful for the opportunity.

Over the unforgettable year that was 2020, more and more of us found ourselves engaged in conversations about our society continuing to take steps towards equality. Being equal and just is not always straightforward, and talking about these topics requires being open to a different perspective. There’s a common misconception that equality and equity are the same. Spoiler alert: they aren’t! Although both promote fairness, equality means ensuring that everyone has the exact same opportunities and receives the same treatment and or support. In case you didn’t catch it a couple of sentences ago, equity is not the same as equality. So what is it really

Simply put, equity is giving more to those who need it, which is proportionate to their own circumstances.

An example of equity is providing more support to a disadvantaged student so they can maximize their full potential.

My school is identified as a 4A school. In basic terms, this just means I go to a big school. And here’s how I like to define it: there’s a lot of people who we can impact. The Equity Council strives to inform high schoolers on current events, political issues, and other topics of student interest. We encourage a healthy discussion. I mean who doesn’t love a well-intentioned debate? We also seek to remind students that they have a voice. But is it enough to tell students that they have a voice if they don’t feel like they can use it?

Our Equity Council values and listens to all viewpoints, and we teach students to be open-minded. All generations could benefit from hearing what I am about to tell you and being the political junkie that I am, I’ll use politics as an example. Every political party wants the same end result or outcome: they want our country to be a better place and reach its full potential. We just have different ways, steps, methods, or whatever you wish to call it to get there. And that is okay.

What is not okay is ignoring differing perspectives or bashing the other side for their opinion.

Showing respect for the other party is a must. If there is not mutual respect for one another, how can either side take the necessary steps to find common ground or a solution?

A lack of respect and decency is something that can be seen in modern politics. Gen Z has grown up in a divisive and polarizing political system. This has discouraged the younger generation from wanting to get politically engaged or involved. We have witnessed friendships end, perpetual arguing, and violence. Our Council stresses the importance of finding common ground when you are young, or at the very least, being willing to listen. This way, you’re not on the struggle bus trying to learn it when you’re older.

One of my most memorable experiences was during a meeting about political ideology and parties. There were two very outspoken students who began the meeting on completely different sides of the room, literally and figuratively. Throughout the meeting, they would speak and contradict one another, each trying to be respectful. Notice how I say trying. It was around the middle of the meeting when something just clicked. Literally. They both started to calm down and actually have a conversation, instead of just trying to make a dig at the other side. They found common ground. It was truly a beautiful moment that served as inspiration for the big open-mindedness spiel that I love to give.

Recently, I reached out to some equity members and students to ask about their main takeaways from attending a meeting. The responses I received were overwhelming and brought me so much joy. Many of these students said they realized that high school students can make a difference. High school students can get politically engaged and involved.

They came to the realization that they are the future. They can and will change things, and decide to not let their age keep them from getting involved.

Through my school’s Equity Council, we have educated and engaged students, but it is a full circle. These students have inspired me to keep going (have I mentioned that high school is tough?!).

High school civic engagement and education does not simply stop at our school. It has to keep going. We have to keep going. Our Council has inspired other schools within our county and in other North Carolina counties to start their own councils. I am witnessing high school students getting involved. Our mission is becoming their mission and the feeling is indescribable.