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Students Win Essay Contest by Complaining of Lack of Diversity

"I don’t think I can really complete an education in life until I join bigger, more varied conversations," one student wrote in her winning essay.

The First Selectman's Office issued this news release Tuesday:

Three students from Staples High School have won TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest, open to all high school students who are residents of Westport or attend school in the town.

Megan Root, a junior at Staples High School, has won first prize in the contest. Her essay with the title, “Diversity: the Maestro of Innovation” explores what she is missing by being in a community that is 93 percent white.

“I think Staples’ classes present a lot of the right questions, but the dearth of diversity means there are perspectives I’ve never heard,” she writes.

She looks forward to being exposed to more diversity as the U.S. population changes and as she is in new environments. 

“I don’t think I can really complete an education in life until I join bigger, more varied conversations. America’s diversity means access to cultures and traditions and ideas from every corner of the globe,” Megan says.

Megan’s prize was $1000.

The second prize winner was Eliza Llewellyn, Stapes senior and the valedictorian of her class. Her essay is titled “No Longer 91 Percent.”

She begins her essay by saying she grew up in a “family whose ancestry was flanked by dragons: the crimson Welsh ddraig goch and the scaly Chinese long.” She reflects on her experience in Westport and how differences are sometimes regarded negatively. Nonetheless she has hope for her own and America’s future.

“Beyond economic strength, a mix of ethnicities will make us more tolerant and empathetic towards others. Rather than recoiling from a gay couple or crossing to the other side of a street from a black man in a hoodie, we can learn to see these individuals as people rather than a blanketed ‘other’,” Eliza says.

Eliza took home a prize of $750.

Third prize essayist Kyle Baer, a junior at Staples, was less optimistic. He entitled his essay, “Westport: A Bubble Refuses to Pop.” Kyle described his classes at Staples and his experience in town as almost entirely Caucasian.

“This racial inequality sets Westport back from the rest of the nation in terms of its cultural richness,” he says. “To be stuck in an upper-class, all-white town in the coming years will be a significant disadvantage to students. We have little choice but to evolve, or risk losing our appeal as a family-friendly town. Yet the path on which Westport is headed shows, as of yet, no signs of diverging.”

Kyle won a prize of $500.

The three prize winners read their essays on Monday, March 31, at the Awards Ceremony in the Westport Library's McManus Room. Jim Marpe, Westport’s first selectman, was present to honor the winners. Harold Bailey, TEAM Westport’s chair, presented the prizes.

Co-sponsored by TEAM Westport and the Westport Library, the contest asked teens to reflect on the impact of changes in U.S. demographics with the expectation that racial and ethnic groups that are currently in the minority in our country will collectively outnumber whites within thirty years.

Specifically the contest asked students to “describe what you think are the benefits and challenges of this change for Westport and for you, personally.”
Judges for the essay contest were grant writer and educator Judith A. Hamer, Ph.D.;   Jaina Lewis, Westport Library Teen Services Librarian; and Patricia Wei, of Yale University.

Bailey, TEAM Westport’s chair since its founding in 2004, says, “This contest gave high school students a chance to talk about the impact our nation’s rapidly changing racial and ethnic make-up will have on their own lives. I was impressed with the quality of the twenty five essays we received.”

TEAM Westport has developed a unique role in the community. By partnering with municipal, government and community institutions it draws attention to issues around multiculturalism and diversity, making the invisible, visible.

Examples include co-sponsoring diversity focused programming with The Westport Library, working with Westport Schools and its Board of Education on diversity,  assisting in diversity recruiting and training with the town’s police and fire departments, scheduling “talk-back” sessions on issues raised by performances at the Westport Country Playhouse and participating in meetings with the community’s Interfaith Council.

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