Written by Jayhan K. '19
The story begins seven years ago. Shiv Ruparell '15, fifteen years old, ambitious and wide-eyed, was searching for the perfect moment to show his true self to the Strathcona Tweedsmuir School community. Shiv was one of the first students to come out of the closet about his sexuality at STS, a truly difficult endeavour in high school with very few if not no other openly gay students to approach for support. Seven years later, he is still fondly remembered for his strength, courage, and bravery inspiring others to feel comfortable and proud when sharing their own identity. This remarkable student is the founder of Diversity Week, a week devoted to recognizing and celebrating the uniqueness of every student in the springtime of the STS calendar.
At the time, I was a young and naïve Middle School student roaming the halls of STS. Shiv’s passion to celebrate diversity left a significant impact on me after he graduated in 2015; his legacy was our responsibility to maintain and ensure that STS remains a safe and comfortable place for all students. Early in my Grade 11 year, I decided to contact Shiv and tell him just how much of an impact he made on myself and several other students. Shiv commented that if he “could do Diversity Week all over again, [he] wouldn’t call it a celebration, [he] would call it a reminder”. I mused over his insightful comment for several weeks before I finally understood what he meant: Diversity is not something that should be celebrated for one week every school year. Embracing and sharing our diversity should be knit into our day to day lives at STS, every single day should be a reminder that each student we encounter in the hallways has a unique and meaningful story to share.
Fast forward to June 2018, we proposed that “diversity week” becomes “diversity year”, every year! Just as choir, speech, or MUN, we desired a program that runs all year long. This was the birth of this year’s new and official, DiversiTEAM. We are a group of driven students and faculty who, much like Shiv, are passionate about diversity in STS and beyond. The committee and ideals have grown to incorporate more types of diversity including gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, religion, beliefs, ability, neural, language, family, and past experiences. We have also transitioned away from “tolerating” or “acknowledging” the STS diversity to “embracing” and “engaging” in who we are.
Although we may be a small group, we are motivated to “weave” the STS community together. In fact, we developed our own campaign called “Weaving Our Stories”. The goal of this campaign is to draw connections between all STS community members to display how our diverse identities is actually what ties us together; if there is one thing that we all have in common, it is that we are all different. We have had story submissions from an array of community members including alumni, faculty, students, and the first male member of POSTS, representing diversity in gender, sexual orientation, heritage, and diversABILITY. From Ukrainian dance classes with Erik Petersen '31, to an immigration panel with Mrs. Nicoleta Picioreanu (parent), Mr. Florian (Spanish teacher), Dr. Kherani (parent) and Roger Ekwalanga (bus driver), to serving diversiTEA with religious anecdotes in the morning, our committee is devoted to shining a light on our diversity and showing a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity than the basic “foods, flags, and fashion”. An example is our “Seat at the Table” discussions where community members who are passionate about a specific topic (feminism, religion, etc.) are provided with a safe room to have meaningful and thoughtful discussions without feeling discomfort, judgment, or resent. We have also developed a monthly theme including First Nations Reconciliation in September, Black History Month in February, and Mental Wellness Diversity in the spring.
As we approach this year’s diversity week (April 6 to 10), we are excited to apply and share what we have learnt these past few months with the rest of the school community. We have exciting plans including a guest speaker, a panel discussing diversity in career paths, our annual diversiTEA with a new spin, language learning sessions, and several other surprises. Even after diversity week, we plan to continue our meetings and ensure we maintain a safe space at STS until the very last day of school. We are grateful to STS for facilitating a time and space for our committee to meet and develop initiatives with our tightly knit community. As many of our team leaders graduate and continue on to their own diverse paths, we plan to continue to write our stories and share our love and passion for diversity to university and beyond. We hope that the legacy of DiversiTEAM continues as this is only the very beginning of our STS story and there are many more chapters to come…
To see our Weaving our Stories campaign, visit @stsroundsquare on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/stsroundsquare/) with the #weavingourstories.