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Park City High School students talk mental health, hate speech, safety

Park City School District
Park City High School

The Park City High School Student Council has plans to address what it says is an uptick in hate speech on campus.

Park City High School Student Council President Zach Watkins said he and other officers are working to combat an increase in slurs and hate symbols such as swastikas found on campus last year.

He said the council holds activities that promote all cultures. Members now check in with various groups and clubs before events to ensure they’re representing all students.
"When you understand something, you're less likely to attack it," Watkins said. "But we always make sure to meet with our inclusivity clubs, like GSA (gay-straight alliance), Jewish student union, LIA, (Latinos in Action) all of those groups before we have a dance or an event, just to make sure that anything we're doing isn't harmful to specific cultures or specific like sexual preferences."

Ella Ehrich is a sophomore and said making students aware of the impact words can have on others is critical for younger kids coming into high school.

"If you know about it, and you are aware of the situation and how it affects a certain group of people, why would you say those words," Ehrich said. "So, I think education is the most critical part to ending hate speech and also just uniting cultures and creating more diversity."

Sarah Fischer is the vice president of the student council and said there are groups the council endorses that help students get training on how to talk to peers in emotional crisis.

"We have clubs like Hope Squad and Diversity of Minds, which help people learn how to deal with tough situations, especially if a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression," Fisher said. "You can be kind of like the gateway, like the bridge to them getting help, not [that you are] helping them, but you are helping them find resources."

The students agree that the biggest challenge in high school is connecting Latinx and white kids in social circles. So the council created a new position this year – a Latinos in Action (LIA) liaison.

Junior Katy Munoz is the new community outreach coordinator serving in that role. Her goal is to bridge the social divide between cultures. She said because Latinx and white students often have separate friend groups, there are frequent arguments and differences that no one seems to be able to overcome.

She said most students find groups that make them feel comfortable and safe.

"We're all kind of separated from one another, and it's everybody's fault," Munoz said. "It's not necessarily one specific person, and we unintentionally separate ourselves. It's a big problem, and we have to do something about it. As we grow up, it becomes a lot more clear, and it's what you see around school and what is normalized for you."

As part of its effort to bring groups together, the council wants student feedback on every school-wide event as it plans future activities.

Easton Brotherson is a senior and new to school government this year. He said the student council works to model appropriate behavior for the entire community, including parents.

"In our specific student sections, we really like to enforce rules of like not promoting certain chants that like could discriminate against a certain school grade or the refs," Brotherton said. "So, as student council, we're trying to lead and not partake in those chants that end up happening. But we try to be an example and show that that's not okay."

Luis Vazquez said joining a sports team is a great way to connect with classmates. He said financial resources are available for students who want to do sports but can't afford the fees. Still, it can be challenging for some.

"With Park City, the economical barrier, it's dividing a bunch of students because I feel like many students kind of feel left out when they can't go to an event because they have to work or they have to take care of their siblings," Vazquez said.

The student council will hold a first-ever Zombie Night in late October organized through Latinos in Action. The student council is also having a culture night, sharing music and dances from each other's customs and traditions.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.