Minority Student Union Introduced at Carrboro High
Toward the end of her junior year at Carrboro High School, Zoyie Mangaroo began spending more time with her AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) classmates who were seniors, and she engaged more often in their conversations about impacting change for students of color. “Niya had a real influence on me,” she said of former student body president, Niya Fearrington. “She got me out joining organizations and going to meetings.” During this time, Mangaroo reflected on what her own senior legacy might be, to carry forward the work that Fearrington and others had accomplished at CHS. The discussions continued with a wider group of students, and the idea for a Minority Student Union was born. On Thursday, September 20, dozens of students gathered in the courtyard during lunch for the official Minority Student Union (MSU) kick off.
Carrboro High is already home to several affinity groups for students of color, so Mangaroo and her peers didn’t want to create “just another one.” They hoped to establish an organization that was, from the ground up, student-run, unique to CHS and focused on concrete goals, in addition to the broader, ongoing goal of promoting student voices. But they didn’t want to ignore the powerful presence of existing groups for students of color, like Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), Movement of Youth, Girls Group and the Carrboro Kings. The vision that took shape resembled an umbrella structure, with room for a variety of related groups and clubs to collaborate and share resources.
Matt Murchison, English teacher and co-adviser of the MSU, said, “I think the Minority Student Union is important because many students - particularly students of color - need a space that doesn't just allow them in, but actively welcomes them.” He has offered his classroom as the Union base, and members will hold both scheduled and informal meetings there. “It was started by students in response to a perceived need for a sense of belonging within our larger school community, and those students now see it as a legacy that they can pass on to future Carrboro students. It gives them both a sense of pride and a sense of place.”
Mangaroo’s enthusiasm and motivation is shared by many other members. On the kick off day, 50 new members signed up. The partner groups set up tables and offered information and encouragement for students to explore their options. The Kings formed at CHS last year with the vision “to develop young black males to realize their potential and use their skills in a productive way to further their goals and help others.”
Administrative intern and Kings’s co-adviser, Ed Pegues, said, “The benefit is to give minorities a chance to influence change in a school community where they can be lost. Our minority groups aim to promote pride in self and self advocacy for our students.” Girls Group has a similar focus, and many members of those affinity groups belong to YLI, Movement of Youth or both, so the network is richly interconnected and supportive.
Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) is sponsored by Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate (BRMA), and it has been serving CHCCS high school students since 1996. The organization provides students with leadership opportunities, service-learning projects, and college exposure and preparation, with a focus on improving access to these opportunities for students of color. Karida Giddings, AmeriCorps program assistant, noted that attendance for the first YLI meeting at CHS was higher than she’s observed in the two years she’s served with the organization. “I think the vision of MSU is great, and the students have good ideas. I believe their legacy will continue when they graduate if they are being proactive in the steps they need to take to make sure they have a smooth transition next year!”
Mangaroo is one of the facilitators for the acclaimed “Classroom in Color,” a presentation created by current and past students in the Multicultural Student Achievement Network (MSAN). In that capacity, and during many conversations with students the past few years, she has shared and learned about common acts of bias and microaggression in our schools. She and others speak powerfully of the psychological roadblocks to committing to honors and A.P. courses as black or Latinx students. Mangaroo is taking her first A.P. class this year, as a senior, and she regrets her unwillingness to take that risk before. “I think a lot of us are nervous, thinking ‘I won't be able to understand material, everyone will be looking at me.’ I've had that happen a few times, others staring at us when we talk about slavery, and I felt so shy and timid.”
Although MSU has multiple goals, including enrichment and service, the officers are dedicated to prioritizing academic support. By recruiting more students of color to enroll in higher level classes, and then arranging and publicizing tutoring options at school, they hope to convey the message that as scholars, we have your back.
“As the first generation of my family to go to high school, I thought that it would be like middle school - just take your classes and that would be it,” said Sam Rodriguez-Gonzalez, communications chair of MSU. “What I didn’t realize was that I also had to prepare for many other things. For example, I remember looking at the Pre-SAT and not knowing how it was going to be. So when we first started this club I wanted to make sure that other students don't come as unprepared as I did.” He added, “I hope this club will empower students and give them a voice, so they can ask for help and be more aware of all the other obstacles that have to be faced in high school.”
Anna O’Connell is the instructional coach at CHS, and the other co-adviser of MSU. She said, “We’ll be organizing celebrations honoring various heritage months and striving to bring in speakers from a variety of minority backgrounds, not just black and Latinx. The CHS Minority Student Union is off to a strong start coordinating and expanding our school's supports for students of color - academically, emotionally, and socially. They have big plans already in the works for this year and into the future, and with their energy and talents I know we will see great things!”