Familiar faces and belonging: student perspectives on race at different course levels

Sitting down with two students to examine their experiences at different academic levels

March 6, 2023

As a part of the Holly Spirit’s reporting on RV’s possible diversity issues, we sat down two upperclassmen of color, Shishir Patel and Charlie Risell, to talk with them about their experiences here at RV. Patel and Rissell both live in Lumberton, with Patel’s family being of Gujarati Indian descent and Rissell’s family being of Mexican descent. 

Patel is a senior, and this year, he enrolled in AP Calculus BC, AP Physics, AP Gov, AP Lit and Honors Anatomy and Physiology. He is also an officer in National Honor Society, Math National Honor Society and Science National Honor Society. As a senior, Patel began his time at RV prior to the implementation of many of RV’s new diversity initiatives. 

August Hobbs

Patel notes that he’s observed “slight changes [in diversity], but nothing drastic” in regards to diversity in his classes over the years. However, Patel said that the perceived lack of diversity in his classes may be a result of how small the group of Honors students at RV is.

“There’s definitely a different group of people that take Honors classes,” he said. “As you progress [through grade levels], you start to see a lot of familiar faces [in Honors classes] whereas with a CP class you’re exposed to a way larger pool of people.”

Fortunately, Patel’s experience at RV regarding diversity and inclusion has been largely positive; he frequently reiterated that he’s always felt welcome at RV.

“Not that I can think of,” said Patel when asked if he’d ever had any experiences at RV where he was treated differently because of his race. “Rarely am I the only Asian person in my class… rarely are there only a few Black students in my classes. Definitely less [than RV’s general demographics] though.”

That isn’t to say that RV hasn’t struggled with diversity in Patel’s time here; Patel noted the lack of teachers of color as an issue here at RV, saying that there are “only a few” non-white teachers at RV.

Since the introduction of the Accelerated (ACC) class level at RV, the program has come under criticism from those who believe that the addition of a level in between College Prep and Honors will make it harder for students from underrepresented communities to get recommended for Honors classes by their teachers. While Patel said he understands where this criticism comes from, he disagrees with the notion that the Accelerated classes act as a barrier for certain students to get into Honors classes.

“I understand the thought process,” he said. “But students can waive out of classes and choose to take an Honors class that they weren’t recommended for… [the class level that you take is] a very voluntary thing.”

Charlie Risell is a junior who enrolled in CP English, Accelerated Algebra 2 and Accelerated Chemistry. Like Patel, Rissell is an upperclassman and has been at RV since the dawn of many of the school’s new diversity initiatives. 

When asked about these initiatives, Risell claimed that RV is “definitely” more diverse than Lumberton Middle School.

 “Lumberton was mostly white…I’ve noticed a lot more different groups of people in my classes here,” he said.

Risell was also critical of the racial distribution in Honors classes in comparison to that of CP and Accelerated classes at RV, saying that they don’t match the overall racial demographics of RV.

“Hell no,” Risell said when asked if his Accelerated classes were more diverse than his CP classes. “There’s so many white people in my Chem class, it’s insane.”

Like Patel, Risell was critical of RV’s lack of teachers of color.

“Aside from [my] Spanish teachers, I’ve never had a Hispanic teacher at RV,” Rissell said. He also noted that even outside of his own teachers, he’s noticed that RV has very few teachers of color.

Unlike Patel, however, Risell believes that RV’s implementation of the Accelerated class level is deeply flawed and does more harm than good.

“They say you need a 95 in Accelerated to get into Honors, which is stupid,” he said. “I think it definitely prevents certain kids from getting into Honors.”

Fortunately, similar to Patel, Rissell has never been treated differently because of his race at RV, saying that he’s never felt out of place at RV because of his race.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve belonged here,” he said.

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