A DEI Interview with Sherese Eaglin (Class of 2021)

In early November, we met with Sherese Eaglin to discuss her experiences as a Black student on campus, her involvement with the DEI initiative, and her views on Mitty’s student culture. On campus, Sherese is a Black Student Union leader and a volunteer on the DEI student committee. Sherese is a member of the class of 2021.


To what extent have you found aspects of your identity affecting how welcome you feel on campus or how other people view you? 

For the most part, I feel like people here and the people I hang out with are very accepting and welcoming. We can talk about race and gender issues, and be different races and different genders, and we will understand what the other person is saying. 

I can’t think of any instances where I felt I was treated differently because of who I am, but in light of our political climate, I do feel like there are some topics that aren’t understood by some of the student body. For example, I’ve talked with several people about the Black Lives Matter protests, and a lot of the times there’s this misunderstanding of why people are acting the way they are.

 And so, it kind of hurts to see them bashing protesters instead of trying to solve why they’re acting this way. I don’t condone looting, but at the same time, let’s understand why this movement is happening. It’s been those types of conversations that I’ve been having lately that made me realize how little many people understand about our country’s history and structure.


To what extent have you felt supported by teachers, faculty, and students?

I believe all of the teachers here want to help their students as much as possible.  I absolutely don’t think anyone is ill intentioned. They care about their students. A lot of my support comes from Mrs. Vargas. I find a lot in Black Student Union. I find a lot in Ms. Nguyen. Those are teachers that I’ve really built relationships with. Even outside of identity, I’ve had teachers who I opened up to about mental health. They saw something was wrong, and they were like, “Hey, let’s go talk.” They broke that barrier for me because I wasn’t the first one to reach out.

Now that that has happened, I feel comfortable talking to those teachers. For example, Mrs. Vargas was my teacher during sophomore year, but I still talk to her. I’m also more willing to reach out to current teachers about how I’m doing because I’ve had previous teachers that have helped me. 

There’s one specific instance where I remember feeling very singled out in class. Right after we finished the civil rights unit, we had to write about our families’ immigration story. I thought, didn’t we just go over what happened? We just covered slavery and now you’re asking me to write about how my family immigrated? I asked, “What if we don’t know our family’s immigration story?” I guess my teacher didn’t understand what I was trying to say because he instructed me to write about the time period they immigrated in. I don’t think he meant to undercut my history but it’s just the understanding aspect. It was a matter of not fully grasping what I was trying to get at.


Are there any clubs or classes that you participate in which have helped you develop your identity?

I’m involved in leadership within BSU, so I’ve been able to share my thoughts and talk to underclassmen about their own experiences and emotions as Black students at Mitty. I’ve made really close friends in that club, and we’ve bonded over our similar experiences and how we work through them. 

This year, I feel like I’ve had the most impactful classes. I’m currently taking both African American Literature and Ethnic Studies. In these classes, I really get to speak my mind, and I think it’s beneficial for everyone to take them because you’re really learning about the current social climate. We get to break down these social constructs as we talk about different ethnic groups, and I think that is so powerful. 


What are your overall feelings about Mitty’s curriculum in terms of addressing issues of race and diversity?

In our civil rights unit, there’s so much that’s not covered. The LGBTQ+ movement was going on then, women’s rights was going on, but we really don’t touch on those things. I think understanding those topics is critical not just for knowing our history, but also for when we go out into the world—we need to know how these movements still affect the present. Making the curriculum more inclusive of different communities is so important. 

Touching on World History, I know that the DEI committee is talking about this, but I felt like World History was another European history class. Are we talking about all seven continents? Or are we talking about one or two and calling it the world? What is that implying? I remember explaining this to my teacher, and he did accommodate my concern, putting in numerous units on different continents. I really appreciated that and was very excited for it. The day he did those many lessons, the student sitting next to me said, “I learned something today. I enjoyed today’s class.” I thought, this is why we need such inclusivity. Because people want to learn, they want to know more. But if that’s not what you’re giving them, people are not going to care as much.

Also, I think that we need to start having more open dialogue, especially regarding race. I don’t think that it is harmful to say white privilege exists. It does need to be talked about in class, especially when we look at the percentage of white students in our school. 

And then we also need to have conversations about gender. I think that sexual assault and harassment and rape need to be covered either in religion or in an actual sex education course. I feel like we need to address what the line of consent constitutes.


Could you touch upon what you have seen or noticed in terms of experiences of students of color on campus?

My cousin graduated a couple of years ago, but I still talk to him about his experience at Mitty. He and his friends would always get dress coded before school for having their hoods on. Other students would walk right by with their hoods on as well, but they weren’t getting stopped. 

And then, the instance where I had to write my immigration story, that’s not new. I know someone’s sister who was forced to stay after class and complete her immigration presentation. Even though she said, “This doesn’t really apply to me,” the teacher responded, “You’re going to finish this.” 

Personally, I feel like this environment has kind of left me in this limbo of trying to assimilate but at the same time connect more with my roots. Honestly, it’s very hard to do that when I feel like I have to live in these two polar opposite environments instead of Mitty just being a more inclusive space. For another friend, for example, it took a lot for her to just finally stop straightening her hair; that was a form of assimilation for her. And when she stopped doing that, she started growing more into herself.

I don’t think it’s entirely Mitty’s fault—it’s just demographics, both in students and faculty. I wouldn’t know how to fix that. But just in terms of sheer numbers, it can make you feel like you’re alone, especially for Black and Brown students.


How equitable do you think school policies are for students of color?

Last year there was a head wrap incident. Let me clarify: there’s a difference between a bandana and a headwrap. In the dress code, it said no bandanas and no handkerchiefs as head coverings. My friend had gotten dress coded, coincidentally during Black History Month. She was wearing a headwrap as a celebration of her cultural identity, and she got a warning for it. That’s not breaking the dress code. I was wearing a headwrap as well, and we were like, “What? What is going on? What are they talking about?” Afterwards, we had several conversations with the administration. We went to Mr. Fallis’ office. We met with Ms. Caputo and Mr. Brosnan, and we were basically making a case to explain that a headwrap is not a bandana. It’s also not a pressing issue to ban it, so why? What is the reasoning behind this? We felt that this was discriminatory, because, all of a sudden, it became a problem, even though it wasn’t before. So we had that conversation with them, and they eventually understood what we were saying. They made adjustments to the dress code. They allowed us to keep wearing headwraps. We were really happy that they saw where we were coming from.

 I feel like school policies are currently improving in regards to cultural acceptance. There was also a rule removed which had said that natural hair can’t be over three inches tall. They took that out prior to the whole headwrap situation. So in general, I do think Mitty is becoming a more equitable place regarding cultural norms.


During your time at Mitty, how has your view of the school changed or developed? Do you feel the same way about Mitty that you did a few years ago?

Coming from a really small middle school where I was the only Black person in my class, Mitty’s diversity excited me when I first got here. So many faces looked like mine, and I was optimistic—maybe a little too optimistic. The longer I stayed, the more I realized that there weren’t actually that many faces like mine. To be honest, it didn’t really bother me because it was something I was accustomed to. 

Mitty is definitely making strides to create a more inclusive community in their response to the Black Lives Matter movement and ExposeMitty. When Mrs. Vargas spoke on the first day of school in regards to the summer’s events, I reached out to her to thank the administration for acknowledging the flaws in our school and actively working for reform. Among other actions, the school hired more diverse faculty and also brought in outside organizations to talk to the faculty on a routine basis about race and inclusion.

After that speech, I did hear students criticizing Mitty for saying “Black Lives Matter,” commenting on how the school is “super liberal now” and going to shove this down our throats. I hope that those students understand that this isn’t a left or right issue. This isn’t politics; these are human rights and, as a school, that’s what we stand for. 


How did you first hear about ExposeMitty?

I first heard about ExposeMitty over the summer—I saw it on people’s stories and heard that it was trending all over Twitter. To be quite honest, some of the content on the thread did not shock me at all. I already knew about a few of the mentioned incidents and felt that such conduct was obviously unacceptable though not necessarily surprising. 

I do remember, however, a number of stories that stuck out to me. I was appreciative of what they were bringing to light. I remember thinking “It’s time we can finally be heard.” At the same time, I thought, “What’s going to happen next year? How is the school going to respond?” Those were the first things that crossed my mind. 


What happened right after ExposeMitty for you?

Directly after ExposeMitty, my friends and I got together and typed out a letter to the school. We were able to have a meeting with Ms. Caputo and Ms. Wesmiller over the summer, and we had, from my perspective, a really productive conversation. We were invited to communicate with Ms. Monson on dress code reforms as well. When summer ended, I signed up to be a student volunteer [in piloting the DEI survey that all students would eventually take]. 

We spent the last couple of months working on that school-wide survey for the student body to express how they feel on Mitty’s campus and what their past experiences were regarding inclusion. In addition, my position as a leader of BSU has also allowed me to participate in more of the DEI initiative’s general meetings. Taking all of this into consideration, I can definitively say that the school is definitely making strides towards genuine change.


When you had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Monson and Ms. Caputo over the summer, what was your reaction to how they responded? 

To answer that question, I have to go back to February with the headwrap incident. When that first began, I thought, “Oh, the administration, they don’t understand us.” However, as we talked to them, they really worked to understand what we were saying. Of course, they can’t see it exactly from our perspective, but they made strides to include us. I felt like that was my first experience actually getting to know the people who run the school. 

So when I talked to them again over the summer, I wasn’t surprised that they were responsive. I knew that these were people I could count on to listen to what I had to say. I found that we could have conversations together and discuss how the school should move forward. I feel like the administration is reacting the way I expect my administration to.


To what extent are you satisfied with the amount of action the DEI committee is undertaking?

I feel like they’re making the best strides possible. I see them actively working, and I see them affirming things that need to be affirmed, such as explicitly stating “Black Lives Matter.” That is not politics—it is a social stance. I have to stress that because when I heard Ms. Caputo say it during an assembly, I got emotional. I went and talked to her afterwards, saying, “Thank you for declaring that. The school needed to hear that.”

I’m satisfied with what has been happening so far, but I’m also excited because I want to see more, and I expect them to do more, and I know that they will. So while I can’t say everything is perfect now, I know that there’s a plan in place.

I also think it’s important to emphasize that the DEI Initiative is not just about race relations on campus. It is also about gender issues, sexuality issues, and everything combined. When the committee talks with BSU and LSU leaders, these students bring up issues that affect different categories of people on campus as well. 


The DEI committee states that they are committed to long term, sustainable change rather than rushing ideas into effect. How do you feel about this approach, and what would you say to students who want to see change happen within their time at Mitty? 

I’ve been grappling with this because as a senior, I realize I’m not going to see a lot of these changes happen. But I understand where the administration is coming from. For example, we would like to see an Ethnic Studies course required for all students, but is it possible to implement that in a year? No, that’s not realistic. We want more faculty of color, but we can’t just say, “All right, we’re hiring 20 new faculty members.” We have to think about what they are actually going to be doing. So, it makes sense to me that we can’t do everything right away, and I understand that means I may not be here when many of the changes come into fruition.


What is your opinion on the topic of transparency at Mitty? 

I think the DEI committee needs to have a stronger presence on campus because it seems that there are many students who don’t know what it is or what it is doing. Also, every student should know that this is for you; this isn’t for only one type of student—it’s for every demographic and for making Mitty a more equitable place. 

In terms of action, the DEI committee is doing what it needs to, but with transparency, I believe that we need more. My friends and I actually reached out to Ms. Caputo over the summer, and we discussed how the school deals with sexual assault. Once again, she was very responsive to constructive feedback and took the time to explain it to us, but previously we weren’t aware of how this issue is handled by the school, and every student deserves to know that. 

Additionally, in our DEI meetings, we were talking about the review board, and none of the students knew how that process worked. Students need to know this as well as who’s in charge of what inside the administration so if they have a problem they can reach out to the right person. 


What motivates you to push for change?

Honestly, it’s just about human rights. I want to see people feel like they belong because they do. This is a school that’s supposed to be a safe place. Again, I go back to curriculum reform because in order for us to not make ignorant statements that make people feel alienated, we need to understand what has happened and is still happening with race in American society. That’s my motivation: it would be disturbing to know students who graduated from Mitty, a Catholic school based on human rights and moral values, making ignorant comments. 


Mitty talks about treating everyone in the image and likeness of God. Do you see a reflection of these Catholic values within the Mitty community?

I’d like to say yes, but I do know that there are some people who brush that off. Of course I think it’s great that we say “image and likeness of God” and “love people,” but I also think that that’s a little too vague. I believe we need to take strong stances, such as “we support women’s rights” and “we support LGBTQ+ rights.” We need to be more specific on what we support. 


What are your future hopes for the development of Mitty’s community?

Personally, I’d like to see more diversity on campus. Right now, Dr. Wilson is the only Black woman who is a faculty member. We need more diverse faculty, staff, and also students. I think that is definitely something attainable.

Additionally, I go back to specifically affirming the rights of people. When I say equal marriage rights, I don’t want someone else to think Democrat, because that’s not what this is. I don’t care what your political party is—these are human rights, and this is what we affirm as a Catholic institution. My hope is that this mindset can grow within our student body. 


Do you have any final comments, perhaps to the students currently at Mitty?

Get involved. If you’re a Black or Brown student, and you feel left out, reach out. Reach out to BSU and LSU. Reach out to leadership. Reach out to Mr. Walker, Dr. Wilson, Mrs. Vargas, or literally anybody on campus. And to all students, your teachers are here to support you. Sometimes teachers will reach out, but sometimes you have to reach out first. If you’re having a hard time, just remember, your teachers are here to talk.

Finally, it’s not enough to just be not racist. Everyone needs to be actively anti-racist. Otherwise, you are being complacent and contributing to the problem of racism that is rooted in our country’s foundation. Race affects every aspect of the lives of people of color, and allyship from everyone is both important and necessary in order to better the lives of those who suffer for something they can’t change: their race. Don’t just support your friends—support their community and their cause. That is true allyship.