Staff editorial: Speak Up Week is laudable, but won’t cause real changes without reform

January 31, 2019 — by Jeffrey Ma and Callia Yuan

“This year, as a school, we try to Escape the Mask that we Live in. Often times it feels like we put on ‘masks’ to conform to societal norms, whether it be in our friend circles, academics, or future goals.”

Despite these noble goals posted on Facebook, this year’s Speak Up for Change Week faced the same pitfalls as its predecessors: People speak up year after year, yet student behavior and attitudes remain largely the same as soon as the week is over.

Sadly, Speak Up for Change Week, which aims to engender mutual understanding among students, has only a muted impact. Most students can barely even recall who the previous year’s student speakers were, let alone their stories or even the generic, slogan-like themes like “Breaking Down the Barriers.” Without long-term impacts, the event has limited power and cannot effectively accomplish its goals of fostering long-term positivity.

The purpose of Speak Up for Change Week shouldn’t be limited to just its “speak up” part; instead, there should be a larger emphasis placed on “change.” Given that the latter part is what actually improves the community, the weighing mechanism for the efficacy of the week also needs to focus on that “change” aspect.

Even if the week’s goal is to lay a foundational base for actual change to happen, there’s a problem when few to no tangible changes actually occur, despite years of Speak Up for Change Weeks.

This lack of real progress stems from the very basis of the week: the theme. Each year’s theme is empty and interchangeable, existing more as buzzwords than as actual messages. It’s a one-size-fits-all situation: This year’s theme worked just as well as the last year’s theme or the year before did, which is to say they’re all ineffective.   

In the most effective and relevant of the week, the Tuesday assembly, there is often a disconnect between the theme and the speeches. There’s is no doubt merit in the messages of the student speakers — it’s valuable to hear the experiences of others in the face of adversary and to empathize with them — and most student reactions have been positive. In spite of this positive reaction, the speeches are sometimes undercut by a lack of continuity. Some speeches have little connection the larger theme, whereas those that did have their message tempered to conform to an undefined catchphrase.

Beyond the assembly, the short film on microaggression screened in classes on Wednesday seemed to better fulfill a generic “political correctness” event than to be the awareness, mental health and community building event the week was billed as. Although the film did offer a message of “recognize, interrupt, repair” and implied a solution along the lines of “don’t label others,” it was again too vague and left no way of quantifying what future change looks like.

Finally, Friday’s cultural fair contributed little to the overall theme: Activities like playing bocce ball, making friendship bracelets and learning photography had connections to neither the culture aspect of the fair nor breaking down masks, whereas movie screenings like that of “Mulan” and “Black Panther” flimsily met the criteria for cultural content.

Perhaps it’s telling when the announcements of a re-opened campus for lunch was a greater spectacle than the actual fair itself. Even after the confusion was cleared up, office staff had to make an announcement asking students to participate in activities instead of just enjoying an extended lunch with friends.

Most aspects of the week were flawed and simply failed to present a unified message. Taken together, these flaws drive a week in which, despite the discussion and discourse on important campus-related issues, little tangible or lasting action is taken to actually remedy those issues.

To have a longer-lasting impact, the week should be more focused and well defined. In place of a broad, loose slogan should be a specific topic, whether that be increasing mental health awareness or fostering better peer relationships. Likewise, messages from the assembly and activities like the fair should be interconnected and mutually supported with the defined theme as the nucleus. Only when the goals of the week’s theme and events are unified can there be a guarantee that after we speak up, there will be real, lasting change.