Haifa’s Story, How it Changed Oakland Tech, and Hopefully Other Schools: The Critical Role of Youth Voice in Equity

Haifa was forced to choose between her faith and her school.  She chose her faith and transferred out of Oakland Tech during her freshwoman year.  The school many consider Oakland’s crown jewel.  She is in college now, but her legacy lasts, through a formal policy change there, and at other schools—hopefully including yours.

Here is the story quoted from her guest blog, where she recounted her experience at Tech,

All was good until P.E class, where I was told that I had to swim and that only medical reasons are accepted if one can’t. Due to cultural and religious reasons I can not swim alongside men. I approached my coaches and they weren’t happy when I explained my situation. They said, “You’re not the first to say you can’t and usually when the parents hear their kids will get an F they will understand.” I repeated myself, I can’t swim with men. There was a male student beside me as I said it and one of the coaches told me “You’re beside him and in class you are by men too, and it’s not against your religion to wear swimsuits, you only need to cover your skin.”

I wish my 9th-grade self-had the fire I have in me now to let her know she will not tell me what my faith is. Sitting next to a guy in a classroom is not the same as swimming with a man. Furthermore, swimming isn’t the only thing that goes on between female and male students when they’re in the swimming pool. I didn’t want to subject myself to that.

For those that may have missed it, the Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion and non discrimination.  So saying you either violate your religious beliefs or get and F and don’t graduate is illegal.  It feels Immoral and it’s certainly a 10 on the dick scale, but even with this president, it’s still illegal.  It’s illegal here in Oakland,  and everywhere.

A “fire” for justice

Haifa found her own path to success at McClymonds and is now at Mills College, but she didn’t stop fighting.  She got support from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (C.A.I.R.) and she kept telling her story.  First in a powerful youth voice program, Energy Convertors, and in my blog and to the good folks at C.A.I.R.

I had heard that her story was bouncing around the OUSD interwebs, good hearted people pressing to see if this trash was still “the policy,” with furrowed brows.  It was wonderful to get news that the policy had changed—officially.  They created a religious exemption for swimming—you can see the policy below.

It’s testament to her fire, and also the power of empowered student voice.  Appreciate everyone involved in fixing this, and especially Haifa, for continuing to fight for what was right even after she had moved on.  There’s a lot of smoke in Oakland, and folks talking without walking.  Appreciate the fire, we need more of it.

the picture linked to the story is not Haifa

What do you think?

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