New program SOARS above prejudice


Reagan Zuniga

REGISTERING STUDENTS: English teacher Jacob Morgan points to the link for students to sign up for a cohort for this year’s SOAR program. The first SOAR meetings were held this past week and will continue into next week.

Arushi Sharma, Editor-in-Chief

Beginning the 2021-22 school year, the Bowie administration has formed a campus-wide initiative called Students Organized for Anti-Racism (SOAR) with 30 faculty sponsors, including teachers and counselors, and over 80 students. Stemming from Bowie’s teacher-only Equity Committee, SOAR organizes cohorts of ten students and pairs them with two staff sponsors.

With an abundance of unique SOAR programs all over the country, including some at feeder-elementary schools such as Cowan Elementary, Bowie’s Instructional Coach Whitney Shumate felt inspired by current national events to be a part of this initiative.

“In the wake of George Floyd’s death, there was a lot of national conversation around police brutality and particularly just marginalized communities, focusing on justice for black lives,” Shumate said. “To take advantage of people’s interest and willingness for taking action, I wanted to create a program that would look at our systems and structures and disrupt the ones that create these inequities for our students.”

According to a survey done by the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans, including individuals across various racial and ethnic groups, believe that it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views.

“Racism is a problem everywhere, and I want to do my part to address it as much as I can,” English teacher Jacob Morgan said. “I want to use my tools as a teacher to do so, and to help students do that themselves.”

Specific instances of race-related crimes have become well-known in recent months. According to data released by the FBI, hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have risen by over 40% since 2020.

HANDING OUT STICKERS: Humanities instructor Whitney Shumate gives out Bowie SOAR merchandise to Bowie students. SOAR had a booth at Bowie’s Club Fair on Sept. 9 Reagan Zuniga 

With the combination of these hate crimes and in-class discussions held in UT OnRamps Rhetoric classes, senior Yuni Kim believes that these things have had an impact on her.

“I was inspired to join SOAR when I had to confront reality where the anger that I’ve felt for a long time about violence against my community became more focused on wanting to stop these injustices in society,” Kim said.

Some, including sophomore Sam Gregg, believe that the increase in Asian American hate and other recent worldwide events are what led to the origin of the program.

“I think [the] Bowie [administration] believed it would be beneficial for students to have a safe space to get their voices heard and talk about the things that have been occurring over the past two years regarding racism and so much more,” Gregg said.

On Thursday, Sept. 2, the Texas House passed a bill to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory, an academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism. After the bill passed through Governor Greg Abbott’s desk, educators at schools in Texas are now unable to facilitate a political conversation that includes their own bias or opinion.

“With the passing of the Critical Race  Theory, I think it’s essential to continue these conversations of race, and I believe SOAR can help us continue them,” senior Leah Gonsalves said. “I know how I feel about race, so I want to know how my peers feel  and how it impacts them in their everyday lives.”

As an initiative aiming to educate its members on racism, the SOAR program will spend their meetings reading the novel, ‘This Book is Anti-Racist’ by Tiffany Jewell and holding various conversations on issues of identity, bias, and discrimination.

“Being a person of color, I’ve definitely had some comments thrown my way about being Indian and how people make assumptions about my religion,” Gonsalves said. “Through the SOAR conversations, I hope to cover how people think about race, how it impacts us as a community and in everyday life.”

In a round-table discussion about deconstructing racial narratives with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the committee discussed the role of education as one of the best ways to stop the proliferation of racist and discriminatory discourses and to foster inter-cultural exchanges.

“I want students to feel empowered to act because we need to spend time examining ourselves and reflecting on our own perspectives and vantage points in building education about personal identity and history,” Shumate said.

Morgan is interested to see how students engage in these conversations of race and discrimination, outside of what he hears in his English class discussions.

“I hope students feel that they can make a change and that they have the power to make a difference to support each other to explore their own understanding of racism,” Morgan said. “If we can explore these issues then hopefully we can see, we can see changes on the school level and on personal levels.”

In terms of the impact of SOAR, Shumate has continuously expressed the effort that the staff has put into this program.

“The more we learn, the more we can deconstruct how we see the world and get  outside of our own little worlds,” Shumate said. “Our community becomes better as we promote the diverse experiences and perspectives that we have at our school.”