Washburn High School students create diversity mural, present at state conference

5 years ago

WASHBURN, Maine — Students in Washburn District High School’s Civil Rights Team recently took part in a project that they hope will encourage more students and staff members to think seriously about issues surrounding equality, inclusion and diversity.

In May students finished painting a mural that they based on the Creation of Adam portion of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The mural portrays six arms of various skin colors reaching toward the center. Each arm is pointing to a section that showcases one of six aspects of diversity: race and skin color, national origin and ancestry, religion, disability, gender — including gender identity and expression — and sexual orientation.

The arms also bear specific religious and cultural symbols to correspond with the diversity they showcase.

The Civil Rights Team, which is composed of eight students, painted the mural onto a hallway in the high school to showcase a message of inclusion within the school district and community.

Team vice president Julia Dahlgren said that students and staff members have responded well overall to the mural and its message.

“The circle represents equality because all the arms are reaching toward the same goal,” said Dahlgren, who is a senior. “We want the message to be that everyone is accepted regardless of their background.”

This year marks the first time that Washburn’s Civil Rights Team has attended the Maine Civil Rights Team Project conference in Augusta, according to team adviser Laurie Molton. Although the high school previously had a Civil Rights Team, she is unsure why they disbanded or how active they were in the school and community.

The mural is the first major project that students have done since she revived the team this past school year.

With the increased attention on national civil rights issues, Molton thinks Civil Rights Teams provide a crucial way to help students understand why a lack of understanding on diversity can negatively affect everyone, including themselves.

“We’re fairly isolated from the rest of the world compared to other parts of the state,” Molton said. “But students still need to learn to be inclusive of everyone. This is a place of education and everyone should feel accepted.”

The Civil Rights Team attended the Civil Rights Team Project of Maine conference held Friday, May 17, at the Augusta Civic Center and was one of five high school teams — including Yarmouth High School, Foxcroft Academy, Sanford High School and Penobscot Valley High School — invited to discuss the stories behind their projects.

Washburn was the only team from Aroostook County invited to present their project. Other Civil Rights teams from the area that attended the conference included Hodgdon Middle/High School, Houlton High School, Valley Rivers Middle School, Fort Kent Community High School and Maine School of Science and Mathematics.

Civil Rights Team of Maine is a program of the Maine Attorney General’s Office and has existed since 1996 in an effort to engage students in conversations about inequality and encourage them to positively affect the environments in their own schools. The conference featured both middle and high school students and advisers from 75 Civil Rights Teams.

During their time in Augusta, Washburn students participated in workshops and team activities and listened to speakers share their experiences related to civil rights, including two individuals who are Holocaust survivors.

Though the Washburn students have yet to choose a project for the 2019-2020 school year, the conference inspired them to search for ideas that could involve the entire school community.

“Everyone there was very open-minded,” said freshman Dylan Evans, about the state conference. “I enjoyed meeting people from other teams and understanding more about what they’re doing to make their schools more inclusive.”

Molton noted that the conference offered a great environment for the often difficult conversations surrounding civil rights. She would like the Civil Rights Team to be the first step in having deeper conversations with the local community.

“The topics can be very emotional with deep feelings on all sides, but if these conversations don’t happen we can’t ever affect change,” Molton said.