At High School West, the student body is made up of people of different races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, and this is what makes our community such a great place to live in and learn from. But when do we draw the line with our expression, especially during the holiday season?
Days before break, High School West is filled with laughter and holiday spirit, yet, some students may feel restricted from expressing their own beliefs at our school as High School West becomes more secular, or sometimes they feel like their religious celebrations are forgotten and swept under the rug because they are a minority of the student population.
According to the Hills West Student Handbook, every student has the freedom to have their own religious beliefs and be open about them, but they have a “responsibility to ensure that in exercising their own religious freedom, they do not violate the right of religious freedom of others and they do not disrupt the educational process.
In our pluralistic society, we expect students to understand and respect the religious beliefs of others.
Many students agree that by finding common ground, High School West can run smoothly while also sharing and blending different cultures. Katie Pincus, a sophomore at West, thinks that everyone should be able to express their opinions and beliefs in school, as long as it doesn’t harm or affect anyone’s education. Similarly, Madame Houston, a teacher and organizer for the holiday caroling at our school, believes that celebrations shouldn’t be banned or taken away, but rather should strive to be more inclusive for all students. She expresses that she tries to include Christmas songs, Kwanzaa songs, and Hanukkah songs as she carols with students in an effort to not make anyone feel excluded. Madame Houston is very open to adding new holidays songs to fit everyone’s wants and traditions.
School is a fairly neutral place for most students and many don’t even think about the holiday atmosphere as being controversial. However, a longstanding tradition at Hills West, door decorating, was recently banned due to safety hazards, but also because of concerns from students and parents that the ornate doors weren’t neutral and too religious for the school environment.
Incidents like this, where students feel like their holidays aren’t being celebrated, can cause conflict and confusion in a setting where we all try to be understanding and accepting while also holding onto our core beliefs. Despite this, some students don’t even look at these holiday celebrations as particularly religious and think of it as a fun way to get ready for vacation. A lot of teachers decorate their room for the upcoming festivities and try to be inclusive of everyone’s belief. Though, through all of these fun, joyful events, it’s easy to forget that some students don’t celebrate any of the winter holidays and may feel bombarded by celebrations that don’t pertain to them.
On the other hand, Aaliya Jakir, a student at Hills West who doesn’t celebrate any holidays during this time of year, doesn’t mind the holidays in school. “I think celebrating all different types of cultures is very interesting. Having it intertwined with education gives me insight into how other people live. Diversity should be encouraged, not pushed away.”