THHS Alumna Tanya Odom talks diversity and inclusion in Equity and Access Team series

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By Kaia Lain and Alisha Ansari, Staff Writers

On Friday, November 20, Townsend Harris’ Equity and Access Team hosted an event featuring class of 1988 THHS alumna Tanya Odom as a part of their proposed Guest Speaker Series, working in conjunction with the THHS Alumni Association. The team was developed in order to hold conversations within the Townsend Harris community regarding equity and diversity. In the past, they’ve hosted multiple forums and discussions aimed to create an inclusive THHS environment. 

Tanya Odom is a global consultant, writer, coach, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and civil rights leader. She has worked all around the world for 20 years in over 40 countries. Ms. Odom said she felt compelled to accept the Equity and Access Team’s invitation to speak, stating, “I think the work around issues of social justice equity access is important, and I have a special place in my heart for Townsend Harris so I think the combination of the two meant that when they asked I said yes…I think it’s important not to leave out places like high schools or junior high schools that may not be having these conversations all the time.”

In the workshop, Ms. Odom spoke about some of her volunteer work in Mexico as well as the privilege she was given due to assumptions such as being perceived as white and American. She also spoke about the importance of having people besides you to support you, saying “ it was just so clear that I’ve had people in my corner and what that makes me think about though from a justice and fairness perspective is wanting to make sure people have someone in their corner.  I think that some of the work that I do with young people [will help me] be an advocate for some of my former students. The question for me is how can I do that for other people too.”

She further explained that there are four levels of racism: personal (your personal prejudices), interpersonal (the expression of racism between individuals), institutional (discriminatory treatment, policies and practices within organizations and institutions), and structural (a system in which public policies, institutional practices, and other norms perpetuate racial group inequality). In light of these, she encouraged her audience to be anti-racist instead of ‘not racist.’

Senior Ali Boivab, who is responsible for running the team, inducting new members, and managing meetings/committees explained that the team’s goal was to start conversations on diversity and inclusivity on a school-wide scale. “The hope was that we can increase the knowledge of our Townsend Harris community on the matters of racism and the dimensions under which it manifests itself,” Ali said. “We want the Townsend Harris community to be an active part in the anti-racist movement not just a spectator.”

Sophomore Cora-Grace Sagario said that the event was “very informative,” and that she was “glad these conversations were happening.”

Physical education teacher Jamal Bermudez commented, I think it’s amazing that the school has set up an opportunity to have a conversation and I love the fact that teachers and students can be in at the same time. They can be talking about this stuff and simultaneously grow in this direction all together.”

“It was definitely nice having someone who had experience within our community- one that is predominantly Asian- come and speak to us about the national issues of race today,” said senior Sohini Alim. “On national newsmedia, we are not the race or community that is talked about much and therefore it is hard to relate to a lot of the racial issues happening at the federal level. I feel as though it gave me a new perspective on how life is like for a Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color [BIPOC] in Townsend Harris specifically, not just BIPOC in the realm of national politics.” 

“People talk about this work as planting the seed. I don’t know what could come out of it. Someone could remember me telling a story. Someone could remember me talking about racism like the different types of racism,” said Ms. Odom. “I think my goal is to do the work with integrity and honesty and to the best of my ability and with the hope that people will find it beneficial and take something away.”

Ms. Odom shared more resources about anti-racism and inclusivity through Ms. York in an email sent to the entire student body this Tuesday. The entire event was recorded and is available to watch on Townsend Harris’s official YouTube channel.

The next speaker will be Captain Roy Love on December 18th at 3 p.m. 

Photo courtesy of Tanya Odom