Urbana High School students express opinions on sensitive topics
URBANA – Harmony Week at Urbana High School isn't about beautiful music or singing Kumbaya.
It's about openly and peacefully discussing topics on many teen-agers' minds: racism, sex, immigration, high school rules and homosexuality, to name a few.
The issues are hot enough to raise eyebrows and spark passionate discussion among the hundred or so high school students participating in the elective program, an annual event at UHS.
The program, which started Monday and ended Thursday, was organized by the UHS student senators. Its goal, said senior and senate Vice President Carly Eifert, is "to get kids together to talk about issues," she said.
Their conversations are facilitated by student senators – who are supposed to remain neutral. In that environment, Eifert said, "people feel like they can say whatever they want."
Sophomore Nicholas Lyles said he was glad for the opportunity to speak about issues and hear his peers' opinions.
"People are getting to hear viewpoints other than their own," said senior Megan Kelley, a student senator who helped organize the event.
On Monday, students got to know each other through games. Assistant Principal Jeff Isenhower talked to the teens about school rules and addressed questions.
On Tuesday, a homosexual couple came to share their experiences and talk about gay and lesbian rights, Kelley said. On Thursday, the students performed skits showing the right and wrong way to deal with difficult issues.
On Wednesday in the high school cafeteria, called the Commons, students talked about abortion, sex education and racism, three tough topics for an hour-and-a-half time slot.
Students heard statistics about each topic from a student senator before breaking into small groups.
In Cole Isenbarger's group, he asked the eight students how they think teens view sexual activity. Then Kelley asked, "Do you think people should wait until they get married?"
Brian Mitchell gave one of many answers, saying "It's their choice. If they want to, they can."
Lyles said he would like to see more sex education in school. "I don't think that there really is a sexual education program in this school. They focus on it a little bit in health," he said. "I don't think that sexual education promotes sex. ... If you are going to partake in sexual activity, this is the right way to go about it."
Many of the students said sex was a big responsibility and that people needed to be informed about its risks.
Isenbarger stressed the importance of starting the conversation about sexual health and activity. "A lot of people won't tell the truth because it's embarrassing," he said. "It doesn't get portrayed as something that's really important."
Throughout the groups, discussions got heated, with students talking over each other and responding with quicksilver speed.
Talking about abortion, junior Kristen Lynn said, "It's not fair to push your religious beliefs on everyone else."
Talking about racism, junior Terecia Adkinson remembered what it felt like to be the only black person at an event full of white people. "I could feel everybody staring at me," she said. "And it just felt really weird being there."
One student asked the group, "Why can black people be proud to be black and white people can't be proud to be white?"
Lyles answered that people should empower themselves as people, not as a person of a particular color.
He also said events like this help teens get perspective on difficult issues.
"It gave me a chance to discuss and interpret how other people feel," he said, "without getting into an argument."