Steamboat students push each other to combat social injustice
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As a video of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers spread across social media, Macy Reisman was confronted with social and racial justice issues that are not as prevalent in Steamboat Springs.
“I was so upset,” Reisman, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School, said. “I came home, and I sat in front of my computer and wrote a four-page poem about all my emotions. I was really worked up about it.”
But Reisman did not stop on the fourth page of her poem.
Having just finished learning about slavery, the civil rights movement and inequalities that exist in the U.S. in her American Studies course, the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the social media advocacy that stemmed from it, pushed Reisman to take action.
“I saw the social media advocacy that came out of it, which I had never seen before, and I was really inspired by that,” Reisman said. “I recognized how fortunate I was to live here and have access to what we have access to.”
Reisman approached one of her teachers, Jenny Shea, about starting a student group at the school focused on social justice issues. Reisman asked Shea, who taught the student’s American studies class, to be the faculty sponsor and then drafted a mission statement about the group for school administration.
Next, Reisman leveraged her Instagram following to spread the word about the new group, which she said now has about 20 members.
The mission of Students for Social Justice is to study and discuss critical social justice issues both on a local and national level and empower students to take action by educating, spreading awareness, raising money and contributing toward tutoring services for struggling groups in Steamboat.
Reisman approached her friend Caroline Bauer about the group, and she quickly joined.
Bauer said these issues are very important to her, and she wants to help people talk about them.
“It is hard to talk about it because it is uncomfortable,” Bauer, a junior at the high school, said. “In Steamboat, in my opinion, I don’t think we see a lot of the things going on in cities or bigger places, but it is important to still talk about it because it does happen here. We just don’t see it as much.”
Shea said her role is to hold space for the students to discuss the issues that concern them and that they may not have time to discuss in class. But she said she lets the students lead the discussion.
Reisman, as president of the new group, organizes and runs the meetings that are held over Google Meets. She starts meetings by sharing a video or a prompt for her fellow students to reflect and spark a deep conversation.
“We really feel that the first step in addressing these issues is talking about it and having an open conversation because, a lot of times, I think the conversations are kind of scary,” Reisman said.
Shea said that after sitting in on meetings over the past few weeks, it is clear to her that social media plays a large role in how students are learning about and processing social justice issues across the country.
“The kids in the group talk a lot about the posts that they see on social media, and they also make choices about what they post to social media in regards to some of these more national issues,” Shea said. “It actually is one of the first places for them to represent themselves publicly as a student and a person who is thinking outside of their bubble.”
Shea said she believes social media is a tool that allows high school students unique ways to approach these issues.
“High school is such an important time for starting to shape your identity, and I think that, because they have this medium of social media, it does give them a chance to express themselves in a different way than teenagers have in the past,” Shea said. “I do think that the day-to-day choice that they have to post something about something that they care about might stimulate them to be concerned about communities outside of their own and actually have empathy for people that they may not see everyday.”
Posting on social media and advocating for these issues is a large part of the group but not required. Reisman said she doesn’t watch the news, rather she learns about news events on social media.
In the year and a half before she graduates, Reisman said she hopes the club cultivates lasting, sustained conversations about racial and social injustice that continue on after she leaves the school.
“I hope that at our school racial injustice is a constant conversation and that we are addressing the issues that are happening within our community right when they happen, because I think a lot of times it is avoided,” Reisman said. “I feel like a lot of people are not aware of all the injustices and privileges that are kind of hard to see when you live here.”
Bauer said she hopes the group can raise money for local causes like LiftUp of Routt County and Integrated Community, a local nonprofit that helps immigrant communities in Northwest Colorado.
While national issues have started much of the discussion, students in the group are trying to take steps that make a difference in Steamboat.
Students are helping tutor other students who do not speak English as their first language through Integrated Community. Students are able to do this virtually and devote as much time as they want.
“It is so important to talk about these issues in our country and in our state and in our city because that’s how we create a more just world — is knowing about it,” Bauer said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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