Connecticut Youth Forum about Race and Racism Hosted by Trinity College

Local High School Students, Trinity Students Establish Dialogue of Acceptance

Hartford, Connecticut, December 9, 2015 – High school students from across Connecticut converged recently in the Mather Hall Terrace Rooms at Trinity College to participate in a Connecticut Youth Forum discussion about issues of race. The Connecticut Youth Forum is a community outreach program of its parent organization, The Connecticut Forum, which hosts live, unscripted conversations at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford. Each Forum focuses on a specific topic and includes commentary by experts and celebrities. The Youth Forum is open to high school students from Connecticut who want to discuss important issues and engage with one another across geographic, racial, economic, and social divides.

More than 50 high school students of different backgrounds and races gathered on campus on December 2 to discuss their personal experiences and their thoughts about racism. According to program organizers, the Connecticut Youth Forum seeks to establish a safe space, “allowing teens to talk about what is on their minds and what is important to them without fear, shame, or embarrassment.” This Youth Forum was supplemented by a panel of Trinity students who also shared their own experiences and advice before taking questions.

Some of the high school students spoke about struggling to find a sense of community. Jasmine, a senior at Hall High School in West Hartford, shared her experience of not feeling fully accepted by any particular racial group. “I was too white for the Hispanics, too Hispanic for the whites,” she said.

Another student, Grace from Bulkeley High School in Hartford, said, “Don’t ever feel like you are not black enough. There is nothing shameful about being black; celebrate your identity.”

Many of the students talked about the effects of stereotyping. “Judging a person based on what they wear – if they are wearing Uggs or wearing their hair a certain way – hurts everyone,” Rayna said.

Another student mentioned civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., in a discussion about equality. “I treat people with the same respect I want to be treated with,” he said.

Trinity student Maggie Elias ’17 was part of the panel, as were Courtney Roach ’16, Josh Frank ’16, and Keyla Inoa Santiago ’16. “I’m really glad I got the opportunity to be a panelist and share my experiences and advice,” Elias said. “What really struck me was how the students, no matter their race, seemed to bond and become a community united by their experiences with racism, but also with love and acceptance. I think it’s great that Trinity hosted this event; I really feel like both the panelists and the high school kids got a lot out of the discussion.”

The Youth Forum also serves as a space for high school students to develop leadership skills and become comfortable with public speaking. Lexi Frame, from Bolton High School, has been attending the Youth Forum since her freshman year. “I first got involved through my sister. There was an open spot in one of the forums and I kind of went on a whim. The topic was about gender, sexuality, and sexual/gender orientation. This was before it really came into the spotlight like it is today. At first I was kind of nervous to share my thoughts, but the forum was so open and the discussion was so interesting that I just ended up speaking,” she said. “Later that day a bisexual girl came up to me and told me that my words encouraged her to come out. Words have the power to make you reconsider your life. My words have strength and my words mean something. The Youth Forums really helped me find my voice.”

Julia Rivera, community relations manager at Trinity, said, “We were thrilled to support and work with the Connecticut Youth Forum to host this event. Given recent events nationwide and at Trinity, I think welcoming Hartford area high school students to campus to openly discuss and reflect on challenging issues of race could not have come at a better time.”

The Connecticut Forum hosts four discussions every season, from October to May. The next Connecticut Forum at the Bushnell will take place on March 5, 2016, when the topic of discussion will be “The Science of Our Minds.” The accompanying Connecticut Youth Forum will be held February 23, 2016, at Yale University.

Written by Eleanor Worsley ’17

Photos courtesy of Connecticut Youth Forum