Camas High School students from eight school clubs collaborated to create a Unity Week, celebrating diversity and uniting their school community during the final week of March.
The Unity Week kicked off with “Global Action” day on Monday and “LGBTQ and Visibility” day on Tuesday. Later, the students hosted “Gender Equality” day on Wednesday, “Religious Awareness” on Thursday and, finally, “Unity Day” on Friday.
Camas High junior Abigail Jiang organized the week, and said she was inspired by the school’s “Acceptance Week,” held last year.
“We changed it to Unity Week this year because we felt that was a more encompassing idea of unity versus acceptance,” Jiang said. “I think we should be moving past acceptance and into coming together.”
Camas High Associate Principal Tim Fox said acceptance is a very passive word, whereas “unity” requires people to take action.
The week brought together the Christian Student Union, Gay-Straight Alliance, Girls Who Code, DECA Girls Represent, the International Human Rights Club, the International Club, the Muslim Student Association and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Club.
The students aimed to start conversation outside of the classroom, but still within the school, around diversity, human rights and gender equality, Jiang said.
She said she wanted to do something at Camas that was concrete and tangible, beyond just having club meetings.
“Our goal, for one, was to promote these clubs and allow them to advertise and encourage people to join,” Jiang said. “Also, to promote diversity in our community and make sure we took steps to actually figure out ways that we can advocate for diversity and encourage people to be activists, instead of just (saying), ‘Oh, I support gender equality,’ and then do nothing about it.”
Fox said that for the student organizers, the week has always been about discussing topics presented by each of the clubs.
The groups represented throughout the week are all marginalized groups within American society, Fox said, adding that the students are doing a great job of acknowledging that these groups exist in the world as well as in their own high school.
“Within a classroom, you have so many kids with different beliefs and backgrounds and it’s important to find a way to hear that voice that is respectful of the beliefs and backgrounds of people who may be opposite,” Fox said.
Camas High junior Zaynah Usmani is the president of the Muslim Student Association, and said that it was important for her club to participate in Unity Week because all minority clubs have to stick together and be there for each other.
“You see a lot of misrepresented information about Muslims in the media,” Usmani said. “So, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to support other clubs as well as tell the truth about our club and defeat the stereotypes and misconceptions attached to our religion.”
Usmani said her club tries to emphasize Islam’s acceptance of all people, no matter of race, religion or belief — to help dispel the misconception that Muslims are not accepting of other people.
“We’re all just people, and we accept you and you are welcome,” Usmani said. “We’d be a lot more unified and we’d be together instead of divided like we are right now.”
She added that there isn’t much excitement surrounding the Muslim Student Association, because many students think they have to be Muslim to join.
“No matter who you are, you’re welcome into our club,” Usmani said. “We discuss social issues regarding Muslims that are happening in the world. It’s kind of a safe space for everyone to be accepted and feel like they belong.”
During the Unity Week’s “Religious Awareness” day, Christian Students Union hosted guest speaker Greg Goostree, pastor at Harvest Community Church in Camas, at the Camas High library after school.
The Muslim Student Association hosted Shirin Elkoshairi, president of the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington, in Vancouver.
On Friday, students wore white in support of Unity and held a mini-conference at the library and discussed how to be an advocate for diversity in Camas schools.
Throughout the week, the clubs hosted a table during lunch where they talked to students about diversity, handed out stickers, accepted donations and offered henna tattoos to raise money.
The students plan to donate the $250 they collected to Rose Haven, a Portland day shelter and community center that serves women and children experiencing the trauma of abuse, homelessness and other disruptive life changes.
On Religious Awareness day, students raised $100 to be donated to the Rohingya Muslim United Nations Fund, to help provide clean water, emergency food and medical care to vulnerable refugees in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Additional donations can be made to Rose Haven at rosehaven.org/helping/donate-items.
To donate to Rohingya, visit help.rescue.org/donate/myanmar.