Feminism Club sparks social justice reform at NHS

Taylor Bistany, contributing writer

The Nantucket school system does not have one group that connects multiple diverse topics. Sophomore, Anna Popnikolova, asked why not? Her response? Start one. Popnikolova is now working to build Nantucket High School (NHS)’s social rights club and Nantucket Island’s first intersectional group.

An intersectional club means an overlapping of all different groups.  Junior Sarah Swenson, stated that “this is an intersectional feminist group, formed with the purpose of advocating for equality across many groups at the high school and on Nantucket in general. I think that Ani, myself, and everyone else involved in the founding of the group realized that there really isn’t a feminist group on the island to talk about this kind of stuff, be it dealing with issues or just celebrating diversity. The closest I think the school has to it at the moment is the GSA, which while a great group, and one that I participate in, it isn’t really the same thing.” The group will also be focusing on subjects such as mental health, disability, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, diversity, and religion.

The group wants to work with mental health issues, as they believe that mental health is an important topic. Popnikolova worries that “as a school community, we don’t focus enough on  [mental health]”. She and the rest of the founders want to be able to teach, mainly students, about signs of mental illness, as the signs can be a lot more difficult for students to assess and recognize in themselves or others, compared to any physical illnesses. Popnikolova, sophomore, says “kids should be aware of the signs of depression and anxiety and it should be a lot easier for kids to find help when they need it”. 

The students organizing this intersectional group believe that disability is not an issue that is spoken about enough. Sophomore, Goshi Daily, wants the “Social Rights group to discuss how schools can accommodate visible disabilities (such as wheelchair users, etc.) and invisible disabilities (PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.), and spread awareness about them”. This is just one of the examples of how these topics connect.

NHS TA, Sean Allen, wrote, “to me it seems that disability is one of the most marginalized and excluded groups that simultaneously is the one minority we all will be a part of at some point in our lives. As a scholarly crippled writer once wrote ‘You’re only a fall or injury away from joining the club’—and even if you are able to maintain 100% ‘able body and mind’, that retention decreases with age as we transition from adulthood to our elderly years. I say that ‘able’ with parentheses because ableism and its biases force our imperfect human experiences to conform to a very rigid standard of what it means to be happy, healthy, valuable and, essentially, human/normal. The ironic flaw in this view is that we are denying ourselves the safety to be vulnerable, all for the sake of reaching and maintaining an unrealistic and frankly toxic standard. Once we understand ourselves as existing on a spectrum of can and cannot, we begin to really embrace the full story of what it means to be human—where we are able to be vulnerable with one another and come together to create a more equitable world”.

LGBTQ+ topics have been talked about more and more in the past years, in NPS and the island, but the group believes that Nantucket still has a ways to go. When Allen was asked about what he wants to see this group do, regarding LGBTQ+, he asked an even better question in return: “how do we stand in solidarity with one another?” This question, like many other aspects, connects each one of these focuses with another, tying together what a true intersectional group is.

Adding to the topic of LGBTQ+, Popnikolova had a realization. She stated, “I know that the school has been talking about [the LGBTQ+ community] a lot, more than they probably have been in the past, more recently because of the awareness that was brought by some students to homophobia and really just ignorance and hate within the school”. She would like to keep the school talking about these topics. To add, she wants more students to be involved in the conversation, as other community members have expressed their wants for more staff, teachers and parents as well as students to be heavily involved in this discussion.

Swenson, when prompted on her stance on women’s rights, claimed, “women’s rights are important simply because everyone deserves rights. Women make up over half the people in the world and the fact that some people still treat them as unequal, is stupid. I know we can’t accomplish… nation-wide [goals], with this group, but we can generate some positivity for girls and really all people—because I believe people of all genders benefit from feminism, at the school and on Nantucket. Hopefully, we can make people reconsider the way they speak in the classroom and outside of them.”

Mandy Vasil, principal of Nantucket High School, said, “women, specifically, need to learn how to step up and learn how to support each other”. Popnikolova agreed that, “personally [women’s rights] is my main focus”. As she said, feminism is going to be the one topic that, in her mind, ties everything else together.

This group hopes to encompass many important topics under the umbrella of ‘social rights’. The founders of this group want to unravel each part. Daily states: “diversity and the awareness of it are extremely important so that we can normalize the fact that every human is different. No two humans are the same and have different needs, and that’s okay. There’s no reason to be ashamed of who you are for any reason at all, no matter what it may be.” Vasil, on this, added, “I think it is really important to embrace the differences for all students, for all reasons”. Both Daily and Vasil interpreted the group’s set of beliefs regarding diversity in a recognizable way. To explain more, this group wants to teach more students that it is ok to be different and that it is allowed, teaching and educating students. 

Religion is a taught subject in schools. Students have been asking, how much of it is actually being taught to students? As most people know, there are in fact more religions than just Christianity, and these have gone largely underrepresented in public school curriculums—not just on Nantucket, but in the entire country. As Popnikolova remarked, “[the goal] would be to make sure that kids in the elementary and intermediate schools, primarily, of course, are educated on different religions that arent exclusively Christianity and Islam.” This could include religions such as Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and more. As Popnikolova said, they want to teach mainly younger students about different religions. Not to pull them one way or another, but to teach them that there are other religions out there. To promote religious equality and understanding; to make sure stigmatized religions like Islam and Paganism are not villainized, and to help children gain an understanding on religion as they begin to explore their own beliefs.

Many students have already asked to join this club. Nora Sullivan, freshman, said that she wanted to join because “feminism is important, social rights are important in general”. Ollie Davis, junior, gave the reason: “I think that it’s very important that people respect women and I have experienced firsthand what it feels like when someone doesn’t know how to treat other people”. Benton Killion, sophomore, claimed, “I joined the group because I think women should have equal rights, and especially equal pay”.

The first steps within the group are being taken. Popnikolova has an advisor for almost every topic. She also has a group of students who will be helping her put everything together: Sarah Swenson, Taylor Bistany, and Goshi Daily. The teachers most passionate are Sean Allen, Ms. Martineau and Ms. Vasil.

Though the group has not met or taken action yet, Popnikolova said that “announcements will be going out, as we are setting things up”. The founders want all students to know that anyone who is interested in anything to do with social rights is welcome to join meetings that will be starting up soon.

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