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Written as an Evanston Township Hight School Senior Studies project, “True Colors: Evanston Through Our Eyes” by Shama Kipfer-Tessler, pro-vides a window into the disparities that seniors in high school experience here.
The book is divided into individual oral accounts from different ETHS seniors in the Senior Studies class about their background and experiences with any form of prejudice. Shama interviewed each student and compiled the interviews, word for word, into a flowing dialogue. She asked each student the same questions, starting with why the student’s parents decided to live in Evanston, and moving on to discuss the student’s experiences at ETHS and in Evanston. In the introduction, Shama describes the book as “a class effort,” with the students contributing to the title of the book and to the editing process.
Readers cannot overlook the bravery of these students in their interviews. Students speak of experiences with sexual assault, discrimination from ETHS teachers and administrators, experiences with mental illness, and the difficulties of facing transphobia. Nick Ingraffia describes being bullied growing up because they were “flamboyant” and people shamed them for being gay. “But then I was exposed to a hugely welcoming community – even if it was just a façade, I was like ‘Oh! Maybe I’m non-binary!’ And then the closet door creaks open and Nick Ingraffia jumps out.”
Many of these interviews share the same message: many residents believe that Evanston is a post-racial society, though these students do not view their community that way. Many students say they would like to see Evanstonians recognize that, though this is a diverse community, prejudices still exist and more people should be making an active effort to end these inequalities.
The overarching theme of the book builds as each student recounts his or her experiences. Each testimony includes a picture of the student, which gives readers an idea of the demographic that these opinions represent. Many of the white male students interviewed see ETHS as a welcoming place that has fostered strong self-esteem and think the Evanston community is open and accepting. When students of color speak up, they share concrete examples of micro-aggressions and racism that they had experienced in Evanston or at ETHS. As Jaylyn Jimenez said, “Some of my teachers I do feel treated me differently because they know I’m Latina and my family’s Latino. And like they treated me really rudely because like they think – like they assume that my parents like don’t speak English or like my parents aren’t going to come fight for me like a white kid’s parents would.”
Ryan Johnson remembers going into clothing stores in downtown Evanston with her other African American friends and being watched by the shopkeepers to make sure they were not stealing and receiving weird looks from other white shoppers. “So we kind of really thought about whether or not we would feel welcome in that area or that space and if it was mainly for one race or just for white people,” she said.
Though these students recognized Evanston’s imperfections, many made a point of their love and sense of pride for the Evanston community. “Living in Evanston has just taught me that to be myself because people are going to like you for who you are…and if they don’t then that’s their loss,” said Alyssa Olagbegi.
“True Colors” is for the community; these accounts point to teachers, School Board members, administrators, store owners, local politicians, and parents to help them find empathy for students that experience discrimination in our community and look critically at their own behaviors to make Evanston more equitable.