May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and North High School in Downers Grove is celebrating in a variety of ways. Members of the newly-created AAPI Student Union decorated hallways with origami art and display cases with AAPI artifacts, held weekly trivia contests, and designed and sold t-shirts. View more photos.
The shirts are worn every Thursday by students and staff members who are AAPI and those who are allies, to show support. “An ‘ally’ means ‘to unite oneself with another to promote a common interest,’” teacher Karen Spahr-Thomas shared.
Teacher Samiyah Nageeb is the sponsor of the AAPI Student Union. Spahr-Thomas, as well as teachers Britni Mitchell and Sara Temple, assisted her to develop ways to honor AAPI as well as Arab-American Heritage month in April.
The group also reached out to young AAPI professionals from across the country and hosted the first-ever AAPI “Professionals Panel” on May 7, 2021. It was attended by both students and staff online and moderated by students Emma Cho, Audrey Lee, Mia Chen and Maddy McGovern.
The professionals, including a small-business owner, entertainer, attorneys and a NASA engineer, shared experiences of being an AAPI as both a student and a professional, and provided advice to the audience.
- Yoshin Govender shared that he sometimes suffers from “imposter syndrome” in his position as an engineer at NASA.
- Leia Atas, who just received a graduate degree in communications, shared that those in her predominantly white community growing up were surprised that she didn’t excel in math.
- Lauren Leong, an attorney, talked about the challenges of being half Mexican and half Chinese and not speaking either language.
- Erin McDonald, an attorney with the Department of Defense, shared an Islamaphobic incident she experienced.
- U.S. Army Captain Alex Kim, who is based in Hawaii, said that representation in the military helps people learn beyond stereotypes.
- Prashanth Venkataramanujam, a Downers Grove South High School alum who works in the entertainment industry and was a writer for the Netflix series “Patriot Act,” spoke of the importance of representation both behind and in front of the camera.
- “The country is changing super-fast and we need to ensure that institutions reflect the changing ecosystem,” he said. “We don’t want to limit people’s potential because they don’t see themselves in that role.”
- Bianca Wells, a cancer researcher at Northwestern University, is on a quest to “upend the inequities in research,” and believes that having greater representation in the healthcare field can help to ensure trust between a healthcare provider and patient.
- “It’s crucial. Diversity breeds ingenuity and perspective,” attorney Tony Ling said about the importance of workplace diversity.
Other participants on the panel included Yasmin Odtallah, Nishawn Cotton and Meraj Alam.