US or USA?
Looking for common ground in an era of political polarization
December 13, 2017
Jason Hopkins and Gage Rabideaux
The divided states of America
Americans must stop arguing and start discussing in order to create change
Americans are increasingly making decisions on issues just because it has Republican or Democrat stamped on it, but simply arguing about solutions to important political issues diverts attention from actually solving the problems at hand.
America is supposed to be a united nation, but yet it is divided. Citizens expose themselves only to the opinions of those who agree with them, refusing to acknowledge that there is another, equally valid side to the issues at hand. By associating exclusively with like-minded individuals and media sources, Americans are choosing to validate their own biased opinions instead of opening their minds up to the possibility of another side. As a result, they are ignorant to the reality of the problems they are arguing about. To solve this problem, people need to stop separating themselves by a political wall of red and blue and instead learn to discuss the real issue from all sides and perspectives.
If citizens continue to block themselves off from those that think differently, progress towards a better nation will come to a standstill. At the present point in time, America and its problems are like a fire, but instead of just putting out the fire, two people (the two major political parties) just argue about the best way to put it out. Both parties are so confident in their thinking that they stop listening to anything but their own voices. With neither person willing to compromise on their plan-of-action, the fire spreads. is problem could have been solved quickly and efficiently if both people were willing to discuss and compromise instead of argue. In fact, the two plans for putting out the fire could have been combined for even greater effectiveness. Instead, because both people were blinded by their desire for the other person to be wrong, nothing was solved and the problem only grew.
Sometimes doing the best thing is not always the easiest thing to do. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” author and poet Maya Angelou said. It might be easier to argue for your side than to listen to someone else’s opinion, but the rst step to solving the problem is simply listening so that you can learn and grow through someone else’s experiences.
Democrats and Republicans seem to see each other as enemies. They believe that compromise with ‘the enemy’ will not create effective results. However, no matter what political party people belong to, they all want to solve the same problems; they all want the same outcomes. For example, almost all citizens want the death rate in America to go down; Republicans believe they can achieve this outcome by protecting gun rights, while Democrats believe they can lower the death rate by implementing stricter gun laws. If the parties choose to work together instead of choosing to fight each other, they can solve the problem by focusing on the outcome; their one point of agreement.
Instead of fighting each other, Americans must start working together on an individual level. Once people are able to discuss political problems and can come to some level of agreement, they can focus on the real issue and solve it. If they hope to have a better nation, then the citizens of the United States need to be true to their nation’s name and unite instead of divide.
The image of Islam
Students speak out against stereotypes and advocate for acceptance
Religion is a major component of many students’ lives. It inspires them to attend church, to fast and to serve their communities. But around the country, religion has recently been used as a reason to incite violence.
On Feb. 23, two Indian engineers who were assumed to be Muslims were shot in a bar in Overland Park, Kan. is was not an isolated incident. According to the FBI’s 2016 hate crime statistics released in mid-November, hate crimes against Muslims – which increased by 19 percent from the previous year – experienced the greatest increase out of all national hate crimes for the second year in a row. Despite these national attacks on religious freedom, junior Ruman Ahmed says that students at Winnetonka embrace each other’s religious differences.
Ahmed practices Islam and is an active member of the school’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). She encourages non-Muslim students to join MSA so that awareness about Islam and its values may spread, which she believes will help to deter discrimination against people practicing Islam.
“I don’t understand why religion has to be discriminated against,” Ahmed said. “Can I just practice my religion and move on? I don’t understand why my religion has become a political situation. We’re [MSA] just trying to help spread awareness of our religion and the di erent cultures Muslim people are.”
Senior Rana Ekilah, who is also Muslim, was raised in an Islamic household and celebrates traditional Islamic holidays. However, Ekilah doesn’t look like a stereotypical Muslim. She has blue eyes and long, red hair that is not hidden underneath a hijab headscarf. Because of this, people around her often do not realize that she practices Islam, and she sometimes hears negative comments about Muslims.
“I hear people say things all the time that aren’t true and are very biased,” Ekilah said. “They’re very hurtful.”
Ekilah has also witnessed religious discrimination against her family in the past.
“As a kid, I used to travel a lot and one trip my family went to Egypt,” Ekilah said. “I remember in the airport as we were getting ready to board, my mom – who was wearing a headscarf – got pulled out randomly from a crowd of two hundred people for a security check. Once she stopped wearing a headscarf, for social reasons, all of that negativity went away.”
Sophomore Nesrudin Redi, who also practices Islam, first experienced religious discrimination in the sixth grade.
“This girl, she asked me my religion. I said I’m Muslim, and she said, ‘Are you going to kill me?’,” Redi said. “It makes me really mad that people associate Muslims with terrorism. Every religion has its problems, like the KKK in Christianity. People perceive Islam as terrorism, and they [MSA] are just trying to get that out of their heads.”
Students of different religions have also seen religious discrimination against Muslims. Junior Piath Mourwal is a practicing Christian, but she supports those practicing Islam and says that she understands the struggles her Muslim friends face.
“I think it [Islamophobia] is dumb. It’s just a religion. Why are you scared of a whole religion?” Mourwal said. “People were really shocked after 9/11, but they blamed the religion instead of the group, and that’s not okay.”
With the recent world-wide attacks by the terror group ISIS, and the increase in U.S. terrorism over the last decade, the image of Islam has been transformed into one of violence to many Americans. But according to senior Dillon Osborne, extremist attacks should not influence student perception of non-extremist groups.
“There’s going to be extremists no matter where you are, whether it’s Christianity, Muslim or any religion really,” Osborne said. “For extremists, it’s almost like one bad apple ruins the bunch in a way. Don’t let that one, small percentage represent the entirety of it, no matter what religion.”
Osborne instead suggests that students inform themselves about all religions in order to understand its followers point-of-view.
“Educate yourself about the di erent religions. Make sure you understand where they are coming from because some people are saying Islam, but everyone thinks terrorists, whenever in reality, it’s [Islam] actually peaceful,” Osborne said. “That’s ignorance because for me, just being an atheist, I just believe that everyone should be treated the same no matter who you are.”
Despite the discrimination she has experienced, Ahmed believes that Winnetonka has an accepting religious environment.
“I don’t get pressure from people with di erent views, since I feel Winnetonka is such a positive environment,” Ahmed said. “Nobody goes out of their way to say disrespectful stuff.”
Although Ahmed believes that students and sta do a good job of celebrating religious diversity, Ekilah hopes that that same understanding will move from the school into the rest of the world.
“I’m as different to anybody else as they are to me,” Ekilah said. “I just wish more people would realize that.”
Not black and white
National controversy sparks student discussion about the perpetuation of racial devisiveness
Government officials across the country are ripping down Confederate statues while protesters object, believing this action is destroying American history. NFL players kneel during pregame national anthems to the jeers of many fans. After a year in office, President Donald Trump is continually accused of perpetuating racial divisiveness through his words and actions. And at Winnetonka, students disagree about the moral integrity of students who sing lyrics that include racial slurs.
Since 2011, America has been engrossed in what the Huffington Post has dubbed “the second civil rights movement,” and students have taken notice. According to junior Asase Jewel, racial discrimination has negative consequences that can range from simple neglect to more straightforward forms of abuse, exclusion and harassment when not addressed. The phrase, ‘you know I’m just kidding’ still echoes down the hallways after students make insensitive comments, according to Jewel.
“Even though this is a diverse school, there are still some ‘clique-y’ people and I think a lot of insensitive jokes are made,” Jewel said. “I think they themselves don’t know what it [discrimination] looks like and they never themselves have been discriminated against.”
Today, racial discrimination seems to permeate all aspects of life – even entertainment. In his documentary released in November, American stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu called out the character Apu from the long-running primetime cartoon “The Simpsons” for being racist.
“Of course he’s funny, but that doesn’t mean this repre- sentation is accurate or righteous,” Kondabolu told the BBC, adding that it demonstrated “the insidiousness of racism… because you don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of you. It becomes so normal that you do
n’t even think about it.”
Although Jewel believes that racial discrimination is a real problem with harmful e ects, others, like junior Damon Carter, think that discrimination is sometimes used as a tool to gain sympathy.
Racial arguments are not an excuse to Jewel, but rather they are a result of the severity of the topic at hand.
“I think that a lot of the time peo- ple like to take situations and emotional- ly charge them,” Jewel said. “People like to use things like this to their advantage. I had a Socratic Seminar last year and someone said something to see how African-Americans would react. People think that it is funny but they don’t know the impact they have on people.”
African-Americans reacted positively to the announcement that England’s Prince Harry and American mixed-race actress Meghan Markle are engaged, helping to break racial barriers.
Heated discussions arose when GQ magazine gave Colin Kaepernick the Citizen of the Year honor in mid-November for protesting racial systemic oppression in America. Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem before 49ers football games in 2016 – a tradition that is carried on today by numerous NFL players, including Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Racial representation such as this is important to junior Patrick Biggs, who says that discrimination occurs by either a lack of exposure to people of different ethnicities or a misunderstanding of what discrimination is.
“I think you have to be exposed to it in order to see that it is wrong,” Biggs said. “You have to be able to see both sides of racism and then and only then can you see that it is wrong and be able to say ‘I need to do my part to fix this.’”
Although Biggs said that acknowledging racism is the first step to fixing it, he also believes it can be hard to determine what is racist because of people’s different backgrounds and sensitivities.
“Racism is wrong but there are lim- its to what is racist,” Biggs said. “Anything someone says can be seen as racist. A lot of the time, it depends on the way people are brought up and the background of those people. e right side and the left side are both sort of extremist. en there are the 50 shades of gray in the middle. Just be kind to everyone. at’s how I see it.”
When it comes to conversations about race, Carter said he always ap- proaches disagreements politely.
“As long as you have a good social ground based on morals then you will have a better discussion rather than some- one who yells at you the whole time,” Carter said.
Although conversations can be- come charged, Jewel believes that people should focus on listening to the other side during conversations about race.
“I think some people need to be able to open their minds and listen to someone else speak,” Jewel said. “To un- derstand why they feel they are being discriminated against even if that person doesn’t know that that is what they were doing,” Jewel said.
Today’s uniqueness, tomorrow’s acceptance
Staff and students support LGBTQ+ students in contrast to the international climate
Members of the LGBTQ+ community going to see the 2018 World Cup game in Russia were warned this month about governmental retaliation for showing affection toward each other, according to usatoday.com. This stigma against the LGBTQ+ community is not isolated, but rather international.
The amount of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community has gone up since last year, according to the Washington Post. Chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt spoke about the effects of these hate crimes.
“Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact,” Greenblatt said. “They not only hurt one victim, but they also intimidate and isolate a victim’s whole community and weaken the bonds of our society.”
Part of that LGBTQ+ community is the students at Winnetonka who are fighting the world-wide stigma against them. But by encouraging personal diversity and remaining open to all students, regardless of who they identify as, English teacher and Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) sponsor Andrea Caspari believes that Winnetonka does not have stigmas that are as prevalent as they are at other schools.
“I’m always bragging that our school is so open,” Caspari said. “I think this is a really open, awesome environment and there is not a stigma here, but there are at other schools. I have to say Winnetonka is unusual in that respect. Everyone is just friends with everybody. We really don’t see a designated table for certain types of people. I feel that we’re very open and accepting.”
Principal Eric Johnson, a self-described advocate for social justice, also believes that Winnetonka is accepting, but ex- plains that it is still far from perfect.
“Although we still have instances of bias, I think because of the climate and culture we try to set, those situations are a lot less common than they are at other places and spaces, not just at other schools, but even in greater society,” Johnson said. “Winnetonka is an accepting place, but just like other schools, we have our own work to do.”
Junior John Menlo* agrees that Winnetonka has progress to make in helping the LGBTQ+ community within the school. He, along with other transgender students, spoke last month with the administrators on topics such as PowerSchool rosters.
“There’s a problem for trans [transgender] kids especially with sub [substitute teacher] rosters because teachers will put names up on the boards for attendance, and your birth name will come up instead of the name that you want to be called,” Menlo sad. “A lot of the times if you’ve come out and are consistent with what people are calling you, people won’t necessarily know your birth-name, and it will be displayed or a sub roster and the sub will call it out. Then everyone knows. That gives them the opportunity to ask questions and then they can make comments. I have a lot of friends that have been bullied because of that.”
Johnson believes the inability to accept others for their differences lies in how people are raised or conditioned to think.
“We all have unconscious bias no matter who we are,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t make us racist, it doesn’t make us homophobes, it doesn’t make us sexist. It just means we’ve been wired in a certain way based on the messages we’ve received through media and just living.”
Understanding individuals instead of thinking through bias is a concept that Johnson hopes to instill in students.
“Whether we are taught that [bias] explicitly or implicitly, we all have different things that we learn,” Johnson said. “I think what I want us to do is unlearn some of those things and become more conscious and aware of the individual and what they bring to the table.”
There are many external influences that can condition one to think a specific way, and according to freshman Kyle Herz, family beliefs are one of those influences.
“Since I grew up in a Christian household, that definitely influences my opinion of gays and transgenders,” Herz said. “I just kind of look the other way. I don’t really like them, but I tolerate it. I deal with it.”
Despite his beliefs, Herz actively tries to avoid any form of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community and keeps to himself. Senior A-Nedra Edwards appreciates this because she believes that students unique traits are a defining characteristic of Winnetonka.
“I really love it [Winnetonka],” Edwards said. “It’s very open, very accepting and different. I love different. Everyone here is themselves. Everyone here has their own style. Each individual has their own personality.”
In the United States, 53 percent of the LGBTQ+ com- munity have been victims of ‘insensitive or offensive comments or negative assumptions’, according to npr.org. Winnetonka is combating insensitive behavior by providing a place for students to express their individuality and creating an environment where everyone feels like they belong, according to Caspari.
“I just want every kid to know that they have a place and that they’re celebrated for what they are and what they believe and how they feel,” Caspari said. “I just want everyone to know that it’s okay to be themselves and celebrate who you are.”
Caspari hopes that GSA is a place where students do not fear any form of discrimination.
“We’ve never felt discriminated against as a club and I can say that easily,” Caspari said. “In 10 years there’s never been one comment or anything by leadership, by administration, by other teachers. If there are any weird feelings, no one’s ever shown them.”
In times of discrimination, Edwards believes that the opinions of a group of people should not ruin someone’s day.
“Don’t let one person destroy you,” Edwards said. “You shouldn’t have to explain anything to anybody because this is your life. We are a symbol of us as individuals.”
*A fictitious name was used at student request to protect their identity
Student viewpoints on the issues that matter most to them
The tonkanews.com staff sent out a poll to the student body on Nov. 10 to see what they believed are America’s most prevalent problems. Of the 128 responses, 18 students representing the student population were randomly selected to be interviewed further about the poll’s nine most chosen topics. The results of the poll are shown below. Topics were selected for consideration in the poll based on a combination of media mentions, Google search trends and their observed relevance inside the school by the tonkanews.com staff.
In the home of the hopeful
Seniors create change in their community through activism, dialogue and leadership
In the 2016 presidential election, less than 46 percent of millennials turned out to vote. That number was even less for local elections. But in a society where youth are often disengaged from the political climate, three seniors are fighting to make their voices heard.
“During the 2016 presidential election, there was a lot of fighting between me and my family members,” senior Hannah Hernandez said. “I had a lot of passion about it [politics] and I would have rather fought than have had my ideals squashed. So I attended the Women’s March and got super involved in the activist community.”
Attending the Women’s March became a stepping stone towards political activism for Hernandez, who said that the atmosphere of change at the March made her believe she could make a difference.
“It was really life-changing because it was the first time I was able to see all of these people that had the same values as me,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t one person complaining about everything, it was twelve-thousand people that were passionate about so many causes wanting to make change.”
Since the March, Hernandez has attended the Women of Color Conference at UMKC, joined both the national and local chapters of the environmental organization 350.org and been elected the president of school service organization Key Club. According to Hernandez, her involvement is important because it shows action.
“I want to feel like I am actually doing something to enact change,” Hernandez said. “I don’t want to just be complaining for the sake of complaining. I want to make sure that I have a purpose in what I am ghting for and that I am trying to enact change in the best way possible.”
Hernandez is not the only person creating change in her community though. Senior Arfon Abdi was instrumental in growing the Muslim Student Association (MSA) as a way to inspire conversation and acceptance among students.
“The purpose of MSA is to just bring awareness and allow people to see what Islam really is instead of just what they see in the media,”Abdi said. “We hold events where people can ask questions and we can tell them what we do and what we believe in. I think that really unifies the people and allows for that meaningful conversation and dialogue.”
Abdi said that she believes having conversations about contested topics is the best way to bring about change and understanding for those topics.
“I think creating that dialogue between people is what’s going to [create] change,” Abdi said. “Without having those conversations nothing will change because everyone has a little bit of inherent bias within them. By talking to people about what they perceive, it allows us to gain understanding.”
According to senior Bryton Koch, meaningful dialogue comes from both parties having a mutual respect for each other and a desire to understand one another’s points of view.
“I don’t want to know what someone believes, I want to know why they believe it,” Koch said. “If you don’t understand where the other person is coming from then you can’t discuss it with them effectively. If you don’t even understand how they came to their conclusions then in your mind it makes them seem inept, like they’re stupid for coming to that conclusion – when 99.9 percent of the time they’re not stupid for coming to the conclusion, they were just raised differently or are in a different situation.”
For Koch, the best way to create change is to set an example by understanding his own view points after having formed them based on research.
I think that setting the example is always an e ective way to create change,” Koch said. “Read your sources and form your own opinion. There’s a difference between reading to read and reading to understand, and we should really read to understand and to add that knowledge to ourselves and see how it shapes how we think.”
Hernandez – who advocates for environmental conservation, racial diversity and women’s rights among other things – hopes to make changes in her community through activism and also through her career path.
“I’m hoping to become an envi- ronmental scientist while also keeping my activist identity and fighting for those problems that I won’t be able to tackle with just my own degree,” Hernandez said. “I want to make sure that I don’t lose my passions for these problems because they’re huge problems that aren’t going to go away in a week or a month. They need to be fought for for long periods of time if we want to make change. The civil rights movement didn’t get equal voting rights even after slavery ended. They [African-Americans] didn’t get it after the amendment that gave them that right. As awful as it was, they had to wait until society changed their mind about what was going on to get their rights. It takes a long time, but you can’t give up on the fight.”
In order to advocate for her personal beliefs, Hernandez spreads her thoughts to those that can help make them reality by contacting her government representatives.
You have to make sure that you aren’t just tweeting into the void,” Hernandez said. “You have to be calling your senators, calling your representatives and making sure that your voice is heard by the people who are in power. Even though they are representatives, they are out of touch with who we are as people on the local, city of Gladstone or Kansas City level.”
Whether someone is making change by having a conversation, join- ing a club or organization, or attending a march, Abdi believes that change is only made by a person’s conscious decision to create it.
“The only way we can have change is if we change within ourselves and we decide to be open-minded and accepting and willing to see the perspectives of other people,” Abdi said. “When people change within themselves, and when they want to understand, then they will. By having those conversations we can become more unified and we can get rid of all of the xenophobia, and all the hatred that stems from ignorance.”
Every person has the ability to create change according to Abdi, who has seen the difference that MSA can make on both an individual and local level.
“I really hope there is a change, and that we become a more accepting and uni ed nation, but change starts with you,” Abdi said. “Know that you can make a di erence just by yourself. You have the ability to create change and I feel like once you understand that, it inspires you to create that change. It’s hard to create change, but keep an open mind. Be willing to understand the ideas and perspectives of other people, and be kind.”