Student Diversity Union
It’s officially called the Student Diversity Union at Rice Memorial High School, but it’s commonly known as Multi-Grain Rice.
The student group at the South Burlington Catholic high school is a student-lead initiative begun last year to discuss and learn about diversity issues.
A half dozen core members present or arrange presentations once or twice a month that are open to all members of the school community. Topics have included racism, feminism, Black Lives Matter, privilege and Islamophobia.
The presentations draw about 25 people.
Rice has few students of color, and one of them, Junior Serwili, a senior, recalls that as a freshman and sophomore he overheard conversations among other students that exhibited “cultural incompetence.” He did not consider it intentional as much as thoughtless, but nonetheless he felt secluded sometimes.
A core member of the diversity union, he said it is a place students can feel embraced and respected.
Through the work of the diversity union, core group member Maryann Pohlen, a senior, hopes the culture at Rice has shifted to one that is more sensitive to diversity.
Of the core group members, four are Catholic, one Muslim and one agnostic.
“These (Student Diversity Union) conversations help Rice to be perceived as more inclusive, especially among our peers,” said core group member Sonia John, a senior.
Classmate Yousef Khan, another core group member, arranged for a slam poetry presentation about the clash of culture for Muslims in the United States, an issue he relates to as a Muslim sometimes feeling caught between his traditions and American culture. “What do I want to identify as?” the senior reflected, noting he is still considering that question.
Dina John, another core group member and a senior, said that young people today face myriad race and gender issues. “This generation should be given a voice,” she said. “Let’s discuss these matters.”
Senior Solange Boucher, a diversity union core member, appreciates learning about other people because, as she said, “the world is so big,” and she has experienced only a small portion of it. “I can’t become too self-absorbed that I don’t think about these other groups that are so important to the world and how it works,” she said.
A Catholic, she said she has grown in her faith through the Student Diversity Union. “We are all one in the Body of Christ,” she said. “Just because people look different or have different beliefs does not make them not belong.”
Rice religion teacher Patrick Welsch advises the Student Diversity Union and offers the Catholic perspective on topics the group addresses, topics he said “align with the dignity of the human person” as espoused by the Catholic Church.