Diversity at DHS: A deeper look


We can be honest with one another. Dartmouth is, for the most part, a privileged, white, Christian-denominated town.

This article was originally intended to be about the Muslim students of DHS – to give a voice to a small population of our school and have them share stories about what it is like living in the U.S during an age of terrorism, stereotypes, and of course, Donald Trump. But after speaking to numerous peers and teachers, it was found that only one or two students openly identified as Muslim. The population that I was seeking out, to say the least, was smaller than I anticipated in a school with roughly 1,000 students in it. As this month is Black History Month, it was decided that this is an optimal time to expand this article to discussing the experiences of minorities of all kinds, including race, religion, and ethnicity.

According to city-data.com, Dartmouth is 90.5 percent white, 2.4 percent black, 2.4 percent Hispanic, 1.9 percent Asian, 1.7 percent two or more races, 1.0 percent other race, 0.1 percent American Indian, and 0.02 percent Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.

The religious makeup of Dartmouth comes to 52.2 percent Catholic, 3.4 percent Evangelical Protestant, 3.3 percent Mainline Protestant, 1.4 percent other, 0.3 percent Orthodox, 0.1 percent Black Protestant, and 39.3 percent none.

The populations of the various minority groups within DHS are small, but they are nonetheless influential to the DNA that makes our school whole. It is important to acknowledge and respect that inside the tightly-knit community of Dartmouth, lie many other, smaller communities with their own culture, history, and customs.

It may not be easy for some students to notice the level of diversity within the student body, as Dartmouth is the place that, for a majority of us, has been our one and only home. Similarly, it can be difficult to notice diversity when the thing that makes a human a minority is not visible, like the color of a person’s skin.

DHS senior Mira Mikhaiel is Egyptian, as well as Coptic Orthodox. Her family moved her from Egypt when she was a baby. They had no money and did not know any English, but they were able to make it by as Mira would go to school and learn English, then come home to teach her parents. Eventually, they were able to buy their own business and they still have it now.

“A bad part about being from Egypt is that some people already have stereotypes put on me. When all the things were happening with ISIS, a person came up to me and asked, ‘Did you talk to ISIS?’” said Mira. “This hurt me a lot because I’m not even Muslim. I’m Coptic Orthodox which is completely different. But that’s okay people don’t understand.”

To Mira, being Coptic Orthodox is a challenge here because it is very different from “the American way. Having different cultures and morals mixing, it’s definitely hard to try to balance it,” she said.

DHS senior Myna-Anaistazsa Desmaris is African-American and a recent transfer from Middletown, RI.

Here, she is aware of her minority status. “I used to never acknowledge it [being African American] until it was pointed out to me,” she said, “but sometimes I will notice, wow, I’m the only mocha person in this classroom.”

“Coming from Middletown to here, I was like, okay, so it’s a white people school. At MHS you have everything from white to Asian to a lot of Muslims,” said Myna.

Aside from the Multicultural Club’s week of cultural appreciation, DHS has not done anything related to acknowledging or celebrating Black History Month. I have seen more recognition from Snapchat, where there has been an available geofilter reading, “Black History Month,” with a picture of Frederick Douglass attached.

In a school as widely diverse as Middletown, there would at least be discussion within classrooms. “If we were in a history class, we would acknowledge or talk about it being Black History Month. I feel like everyone is missing out on it, because those kinds of discussions widen your cultural scope and experiences in dealing with people different from you,” said Myna.

Not only do these discussions have the kind of impact that Myna spoke of, but they can simply make kids more comfortable and open with the idea of speaking about race. I can admit that even I once – and many times before this – hesitated before describing a woman as black, even though in that moment, it was the easiest way to describe her in a crowd. A crowd that was entirely white besides her. Becoming more attuned to the idea of race and recognizing it could also be a solution to ending the casual use of derogatory terms, such as the n-word.

Myna continued, “There are a lot of people calling other people the n-word here, and they are as pale as a ghost. If they were anywhere else, like in Fall River, they’d probably get beaten up.”

Truly, as I was writing this, I received a Snapchat with the sender using the n-word. And yes, the sender was white.

Last year, DHS received a transfer student named Fardeen Rashid from Australia, who has since then moved to Fiji this past October. Fardeen identifies as Muslim and has grown up moving from country to country because of his parents’ jobs.

“I have never myself been bullied or made fun of for being Muslim. In Australia, our schools were very ethnically diverse so everyone interacted happily. The same goes for Dartmouth,” said Fardeen. For attributional clarifications, our interview was conducted over Facebook because of the limitations that phones present with international phone calls. Where he is now in Fiji, there is a large number of Muslim residents so there are no conflicts, he reports.

Yasmin Arda, an exchange student from Palestine, is a junior at DHS. She has lived in Jordan and Palestine all her life, both of which are heavily populated with Muslims. Yasmin recognizes the fact that she is one among few, if any, Muslim students at DHS, and takes it in stride. She believes that while she is spending time in the U.S., she can behave as an example for her people back home and share her experiences.

“It feels amazing to share about Islam with people, especially non-Muslims,” she said, “and to teach my religion. That is why I’m really happy that I got this opportunity to come here.”

Yasmin likes it so much here that she would like to come back again in the future, but is afraid that Donald Trump may interfere with her plans.

“I hate him. Even my host mom [does], and she is a Christian, so it’s not just because he said that Muslims shouldn’t come to the U.S. It’s crazy not to let Muslims come here. I want to come back for college. He is misunderstanding Islam right now. Instead of making it better, he’s just making it worse.”

Back in December after the shooting in San Bernardino, California, Yasmin’s World History class, taught by History Teacher Elizabeth True, was having a discussion on the event when the topic of terrorism arose.

Yasmin said, “Mrs. True was talking about the shooting, and the students began talking about terrorists. Mrs. True gave them an example, asking the students, ‘We have Yasmin in our class, and does anybody see her as a terrorist here?’” Yasmin describes this as a positive experience for herself because she was able to pose as an example.

“I’m here to show them that no, we’re not terrorists. I want to give them the idea that no, don’t think that everything that’s on TV is right, because not every Muslim is a terrorist,” said Yasmin.

DHS senior Jaein Jung is Korean, and she too has felt the similar weight of stereotypes made because of her cultural background. It was the worst for her in middle school, she said, “People didn’t let me forget that I was Asian. They constantly reminded me.”

“The biggest stereotype was that people would keep asking me if I was North or South Korean,” she said. “There are times when people sincerely don’t know the difference, which is sad, and I can tell that they do not know the difference, they just get the two Koreas confused. They know that one of them is the bad Korea and that one of them is the good Korea. But there are other people who keep asking me, repeatedly, and there are people who don’t even ask, and they say ‘How does it feel to be a slave to Kim Jong Un?’ ‘Have you ever met Kim Jong Un?’ ‘How much do your parents respect him?’ They just assume that I’m North Korean, and that I hate this country,” reported Jaein. She isn’t asked these types of questions as regularly since coming to high school, but in her opinion, that remains to be one of the biggest stereotypes she has received.

Another one is when she tells people that she is not just Asian, but that she is Korean. People will assume that she is Chinese, which to her “is also insensitive because there are not just Chinese people out there.”

“They think that I eat pets. One time, someone asked me ‘Do you have a pet?’ and I said ‘No,’ and they said, ‘Oh, probably because you always eat your pets.’ I’m just like, excuse me?” The stereotypes that afflict Jaein follow her into the classroom, too.

“People always assume that I’m the smartest person in school, which is definitely not true. I work hard. That does not mean that I am naturally smart. Also, the fact that I play the violin, they think of it as an Asian trait. They think that because I’m unathletic, it’s because I’m Asian,” said Jaein. Despite these stereotypes, she does not try to change herself, staying true to her Korean culture and own personality identity.

“I grew up learning Korean as a language,” she said. “I grew up learning Korean traditions, Korean culture. Every day I eat Korean food, every day I write and read in Korean, talk in Korean, and every day my family would watch Korean shows. Even though I am labeled as an American citizen, I have Korean blood and a Korean heart.”

DHS junior Julia Levin said, “Although most people may not like to say it, DHS is not necessarily a diverse place. Most students and faculty are of the same race, ethnicity, and religion, and this creates a lack of awareness about the people who may be different.” She is Jewish, which makes her a minority at DHS as well, but she does not feel the same type of constant reminder as others do.

“The only time I feel left out is around the holidays. Even though my family and I celebrate Hanukkah, I still don’t get that excitement that a lot of people get around Christmas each year. In no way am I jealous of this feeling, but it just makes me realize that I’m not like everyone else,” Julia explained. This feeling is most likely shared by the rest of DHS students and faculty who do not celebrate Christmas either.

“To me, being Jewish is having a community of people whom I know I can always turn to. Being Jewish has taught me to recognize the past and appreciate the moment,” said Julia.

A couple of weeks ago, Julia was at her locker and couldn’t help but overhear the kids behind her laughing about “some seemingly hilarious joke made about Jews, Muslims, and African Americans.” She tried to restrain herself and to just mind her own business but couldn’t. “I turned around and made it a point to tell them that they can’t talk like that without major consequences,” she said. “This one incident made me realize how unaware people are about the different kinds of people in the world and in our community.”

This point could not be truer. If anything, maybe at least if there was some further education within our school during a future Black History Month, if that’s not too much to ask for, stories like the ones told above would cease to exist. We grow as people when we take a step outside of our comfort zone and learn about something we are unfamiliar with.

This part of Massachusetts experiences a rare situation in that the majority of the internationally homogeneous population is a minority anywhere else in the country. Dartmouth is rich in culture, the Portuguese culture to be more specific, and that makes the town, along with New Bedford and Fall River, seem ethnically diverse.

Like Julia, I am Jewish and have heard countless jokes either directed to me or the general vicinity, revolving around Jewish stereotypes and the Holocaust. My friends know that I am Jewish and will sometimes ask me questions about the religion, which I know is only out of curiosity, and I’m glad they take an interest in my beliefs. But there is a line that is being crossed when a person simply says “World War II” as a comeback (a lazy one at that), or telling someone who is going to pick up a quarter to stop “being such a Jew.”

DHS Mandarin Teacher Emily Wang said, “As a high school in a small town, DHS is at a good level of cultural diversity,” she continued, “but what I’m concerned is students need to get to know more about the world outside, not just DHS or Dartmouth. When your outlook and your thoughts are widely opened, you will find out that actually there is no difference between majority and minority. Taking myself as an example, I’m being treated just as a native here. I never feel like a foreigner because everybody treats me fairly. And that’s one of the reasons that I love working here.”