**Unfortunately the Culture Fest has been canceled. Thank you for your understanding.**
The 5280 club and Leadership are creating a Culture Fest to combat cultural intolerance and celebrate diversity.
What is culture? Merriam-Webster defines it as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group, but can it be more? Could a school have a culture? A family? An individual? However you define culture, it is undoubtable that culture should be appreciated. Unfortunately, under the homogenizing reign of social and mainstream media, it has become easy to neglect culture. The impacts of this phenomenon have more implications than just forgetting grandma’s spice cake recipe; cultural intolerance is one of the root causes of the hate crimes and oppressive legislation plaguing our country. To encourage students to not only tolerate but appreciate their school’s diverse cultures, the 5280 club and Leadership will be hosting Thomas Jefferson High School’s first Culture Fest on Friday, March 13th from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the cafeteria.
“We actually started with an initial project of making students who are legally undocumented in the United States feel more comfortable in our school community,” informed Abby Mulligan, a junior who joined 5280 this year. The club realized that a key factor in supporting undocumented immigrants was having a school culture that openly accepts students from all backgrounds. Racism has played a pivotal role in the anti-immigration rhetoric currently afflicting the country, cowing today’s youth into hiding their roots for fear of persecution. School should be a place where every individual feels welcome, regardless of their status in the eyes of the federal government. Mulligan insisted, “It is very important to make sure that you feel accepted, because it feels a lot worse to just hide [your culture].”
5280 and Leadership hope to collaborate with the plethora of clubs at TJ that already play a pivotal role in celebrating students’ cultures. The Black Student Alliance, Jewish Student Connections, Hispanic and Latino Club, and Native American Student Alliance are just a few clubs that give Spartans a safe space to appreciate their race, religion, and identity. The Culture Fest will expound on the hard work of these clubs, providing a medium for the pride and knowledge that has grown out of their years of operation.
All students and staff have the opportunity to present at Culture Fest; they need only fill out a Google Form at https://tinyurl.com/tjculturefest. Presenters at the festival can showcase their heritage, ethnicity, race, sexuality, gender, or any other facet that they feel is integral to their identity. As for the form of the presentation, there are no limits. Clubs and individuals have the option of hosting a table where spectators can learn about their culture. Dance, music, visual art, or spoken word are just a few of the ways presenters could exhibit their values. Perhaps one of the most attractive aspects of the festival will be the food! Culinary art is the most delicious way to introduce strangers to a new culture. Spectators will be able to indulge in flavors from every continent as they look, laugh, and learn. Safinat Mohamed, a senior on 5280, believes that celebrating culture helps us learn more about one another. “I’m proud to be a Sudanese American. It makes me who I am,” she stated. “I celebrate my culture through dance and music. Through these two methods, I am able to learn about the rich history behind where I am from.”
Students, parents, teachers, and administrators will all be able to appreciate Culture Fest. The organizers hoped that scheduling Culture Fest ahead of the ruthless waves of standardized testing that crash down in April and May would allow students to attend without sacrificing academic obligations. “I feel like the biggest challenge we will face involves getting people to come,” admitted Mulligan. Homework, jobs, sports, and social lives are potent distractors from school functions like Culture Fest. Hopefully, the exquisite sites and sounds of a myriad of different cultures will entice even the busiest of students. After all, what high schooler would ever turn down free food?
Whether curiosity, an empty stomach, or a poor sense of direction takes students to Culture Fest, 5280 and Leadership hope that Spartans will leave with what has become a rarity in the current political climate: an open mind. “For many years, people have had negative ideas about different cultures,” explained Mohamed. “It is important to have perspective and a good understanding of our peers.” Our brains are hardwired to fear the unknown, but they also crave connection. This spring, step out of your comfort zone and appreciate the brilliant beauty of humanity.