Freshman Odessa Thompson

Freshman Odessa Thompson, 15, gets a henna tattoo from senior Hana Rabbani, 17, the vice-president of the Muslim Student Association, during Acceptance Week at Camas High School, in which four student organizations teamed up to create a week of educational events. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

Posted: February 20, 2017

CAMAS — Brenton Riddle wants students from all backgrounds to feel welcome at Camas High School, and he thinks the way to accomplish that is through awareness.

“Awareness is the first step to acceptance,” said the Camas High School senior. “You can’t accept something you don’t know is there.”

That’s a big reason why Riddle, 17, wanted to create a spirit week at the school to honor diverse student groups. He reached out to a few organizations and came up with Acceptance Week, which took place Feb. 13-17.

Each day of the week was sponsored by a different student group, and all the groups had information booths during lunch and a meeting after school. Monday was sponsored by the International Club, the Gay-Straight Alliance took over on Tuesday, the International Human Rights Club sponsored Wednesday, Thursday went to the Muslim Student Association and Friday was a day for unity, when students were asked to wear white and write letters to a senator.

Each day, students were asked to wear a different color. The Muslim Student Association gave out henna tattoos during lunch on Thursday, and on Friday night, there was a screening of “Call Me Kuchu,” a documentary chronicling the struggle of the LGBT community in Uganda. The organizations collected money at the screening to donate to the Q Center in Portland, a nonprofit that works with the LGBTQ community.

“People are part of more than one community,” said Riddle, who is president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. “We wanted to incorporate more than one group.”

That idea also played into the theme of the week. When talking to student leaders from other organizations, Riddle said, he asked them to focus on intersectionality during their meetings throughout the week. Intersectionality is how discrimination and oppression aimed at different social characteristics, such as gender, sexual orientation, and class, can overlap and intersect.

“Social progress can’t be made if we’re looking at just one thing,” Riddle said.

Junior Trent Vallejo, another member of the Gay-Straight Alliance who helped organize Acceptance Week, said the after school meetings all had higher attendance numbers than usual.

“There was a lot more discussion,” Vallejo, 17, said. “Some people who don’t normally attend, or people who don’t always speak at the meetings, were talking.”

Vallejo said the goal for the week was to help unify the student body more.

Riddle said the idea wasn’t to push a liberal agenda during the week.

“It was about acceptance,” he said.

He invited a Christian student organization to participate in the week but never heard back.

The hope for Riddle is that Acceptance Week will continue on after he graduates, and Vallejo said he intends to keep it going next year. He also said he hopes the different student groups continue to work together.

Read the full story at The Columbian.