When activism and empathy meet: Nevada Union student partners with Creating Communities Beyond Bias
Like every senior at Nevada Union High School, Xochitl Husted recently completed her senior project. As many of her classmates participated in job shadowing or creating works of art, Husted knew she wanted to do something that for her had a deeper meaning.
Meanwhile, the local group Creating Communities Beyond Bias was actively looking for seniors who might be interested in pairing with them for their senior projects. The projects are a requirement for all students who wish to walk across the graduation stage with diploma in hand.
Creating Communities Beyond Bias was formed in 2011 in response to a racist incident in Nevada County. The last seven years found the group serving on a number of panels related to prejudice, and advising school administrators and student groups concerned about social justice issues. They have conducted numerous workshops and presentations for middle school, high school, and college students in the region.
When the group visited Nevada Union to seek likeminded seniors interested in working with them, Husted was the lone applicant.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “And I think that’s how a lot of other seniors felt. I thought well, it sounds like something I would like, and sounds like an organization I could identify with.”
With her mentor Jenny Hale and Creating Communities Beyond Bias’ Bill Drake guiding her, Husted set off on her project to make Nevada Union a more empathetic place.
“My specific thesis was educating students about empathy. We could increase empathy and therefore solve a variety of social justice and bullying issues plaguing the nation,” she said.
“I found that empathy education is effective and the exposure to the idea of empathy, the definition of empathy, the concept of empathy can change a child’s behavior and change how they view other children’s behavior. It helped me and motivated me with my project.”
DOING HER HOMEWORK
The process of completing the project entailed the fulfillment of a number of requirements, such as creating a slide show and dedicating at least 20 hours to her research. Husted interviewed students, sent out a school-wide survey, and incorporated all of her data into her project and final presentation.
She also presented her findings to freshmen at her school, a group she believes are more impressionable as they are new to high school life.
“I feel like freshmen kind of tune out when they’re bored so I wanted them to see that it wasn’t just coming from me,” said Husted. “I just worked on defining empathy, showing how you can use it in your daily life, and what happens when you are less empathetic.”
Those who lack empathy, Husted found, have a higher likelihood of committing a violent crime, and a predisposition for antisocial tendencies. Antisocial personality disorder is common when one experiences low levels of empathy.
Activism comes naturally for Husted, as she is a member of the Social Justice Club at Nevada Union and would like to go into law or policy when she enters Pitzer College in the fall.
“I love education, I love that as a way of giving to people. I am definitely activism-oriented,” she said.
MORE THAN A GOOD GRADE
Of her own school, Husted said, “Recently we had a student who had some negative things said to him because of his sexual orientation, so he enlisted the social justice club. There was a student last year and she had some problems with hate speech because of the color of her skin.”
“I know that there is a culture on campus that accepts that type of behavior, but I also know there’s a culture on campus that doesn’t.”
Good news came when Husted learned she had received a grade of 99.4 percent on her project. One of the judges on the panel declared that Husted’s project was the best she had seen in three years, which gave Husted hope that Nevada Union is ready to examine empathy more in the future.
“I was hoping that by educating this newer generation they could set an example for the classes that are coming later,” she said. “I hope I had an effect on the way they behave. I am hopeful that there will be a change.”
Husted said that the project has left an indelible mark on her.
“I noticed a change in the way that I think about my future,” she said. “The project did have an effect on me. It pushed me more toward my activism. I want to open people’s eyes.”
Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4231.
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