JWA's Rising Voices Fellowship helps female-identified teens develop authentic voices, strengthen their leadership through writing, and begin to influence the important conversations of the Jewish community. Of course, these rockstars are already shaking things up in their communities today. This is Part Four of the Rising Voices in Action series, a month-long series that demonstrates the many different ways in which you can challenge the status quo, no matter your gender or age.
It takes great courage to challenge authority when you’re a high school student. At that stage in your life, school comprises much of your world, and your relationship with school determines many aspects of your future. Although many school administrations might not encourage dissent, learning to stand up to injustice is as essential a skill for a young person to learn as calculus or chemistry. Of course, administrations are not the only unjust systems that teenagers typically encounter at school: it also takes great courage to stand up against the rigid social hierarchy that characterizes many student populations.
In our final installment of Rising Voices in Action, our Rising Voices Fellows fight against both administrations and rigid social groups, by printing an exposé in the school paper; challenging an administration’s stance on Israel; and pushing outside the boundaries of a high school clique. These stories are inspirational reminders of how much bravery and tenacity it takes to challenge the status quo, and how rewarding it can be when you succeed.
: I was made editor-in-chief of the school newspaper when I was a junior, and I felt a great responsibility to make the paper a good one. I got my reporters to write stories on the things at our school that nobody talks about, especially the academic pressure and cheating culture. When one writer and I started investigating cheating at our school last year, we ran into trouble. Students would only tell us their side of the story if we did anonymous surveys. Teachers would give us quotes, but they didn’t want us to use their names. The principal didn’t want to let us publish at all. As we began sending out surveys and interviewing students, the buzzing in the halls grew, enough that the principal pulled us in for meeting after meeting about why publishing this article would mess up the school’s reputation (it didn’t). But when we finally got the article out into the world, something amazing happened: people were talking seriously about why we cheated (answer: stress) and how to put an end to the phenomenon. We didn’t come up with many solutions that year, and it’s still something the school has to work on, but the conversation was started.
: Although my high school tends to be a liberal hotspot, one issue where there is much diversity of thought is on the topic of Israel. We have hardcore AIPAC
-ers as well as devoted JStreet
-ers. As one of the leaders of my school’s Israel Discussion Club, it’s my job to promote conversations about Israel, integrating all of the different perspectives. The guest speakers on Israel that my school hosts are typically quite right-wing politically. So my co-leaders and I came up with an idea to host a panel of our school’s alumni to speak about Israel on college campuses, and about how our school did or didn’t prepare them. While most of them identified as center or right leaning on Israel, they all said that our school should have taught more about the Palestinian narrative. However, just a week or so after the panel, there was another guest speaker with a clear right-wing bias. It was frustrating to see how soon the faculty reverted back to a one-sided conversation. However, as a school leader, I’m not done making sure that everyone’s opinions can be heard. Conversations are continuing, and I will make sure that all perspectives are welcomed into the discussion.
: Labels and stereotypes make our lives easier. As a high school student, I notice how my school community (myself included) places people in boxes. We label people as jocks, science nerds, artists, misfits, etc..and are later surprised when our labels don’t fit. It wasn’t until this year that I gained the confidence to stop caring about superficial labels. After I started to put my time into social justice activism and writing, despite being a self-described STEM geek, I realized how wrong and damaging stereotyping can be. I love talking politics, working with others on social justice projects, and learning about ways to make a difference in my communities. However, I didn’t pursue my passion for activism until recently because I believed it strayed too far from my academic interests. Last summer I finally became mature enough to ignore what other people think, and discovered that my passion is enough. I know I’m not alone. There are plenty of high school students who feel limited by the clique they are a part of, or by the activities they go to after school. We’re assigned labels, but we don’t have to abide by them. All we have to do is overcome our fear, and persist.
Inspired by these reflections? You can check out RVF’s other blog posts. If you love the series and want to hear more about what these budding revolutionaries are doing, let us know and we can add you to our mailing list!