Tag Archives: Teen Diversity Essay Contest

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Winners Tackle Racism

When TEAM Westport announced the topic for its 9th annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest, a small group had their say. They did not like it.

Now the high school students have had their say.

They responded to the prompt —

In 1,000 words or fewer, describe what you would like to explain to people in your community who avoid or struggle with talking about race, or acknowledging system racism, or who apply a “color blind” approach to issues —

with passion, power and insights.

The contest was open to anyone in grades 9-12 who lives in Westport, or attends a public or private school here. An awards ceremony was held last night, at the Westport Library.

Junior Ian Patton won 1st place — and $1,000 — for his essay, “How to be a Good White Person.”

Patton writes: “The white presence, even if it’s not in the majority, is the baseline, the standard. White people living within this society don’t have to do any work to figure out their identity. They can live comfortably without thinking about race.”

Being white, he says, “allows me to expect certain treatment and be unaware, or ignorant rather, of the feeling of being treated as less than.”

Patton adds: “When we lash out or shut down after being made uncomfortable, that is evidence of the work we have to do. And white discomfort is dangerous. It’s what causes so many potential allies and accomplices to shy away from activism. lf we can’t handle being held accountable, and if we can’t learn about our history and reality without feeling personally attacked, we are useless to the fight against white supremacy.”

TEAM Westport Diversity Essay Contest winner Ian Patton (3rd from left) with (from left) 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey Jr., superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, and Westport Library director Bill Harmer.

Second place — and $750 — went to junior Colin Morgeson. Describing himself as of “white and minority descent,” he tackles the fraught topic of critical race theory.

“Tribalism,” he says, “naturally leads people to avoid race-related discussions.” But “racism is an illness, an affliction of the soul that our country has long struggled to vanquish, and a disease that will probably never be completely eradicated.” To treat it, “citizens need to make an active effort, and this begins with awareness of systemic racism and its effects.”

We need humility, level-headedness and compassion when talking about race, Colin writes. And “through discussion, we take the first step into becoming the heroes of our stories.”

Sophomore Leigh Foran won third place, worth $500, for “Embracing Privilege to Tackle Racism.” (An hour earlier, she won 1st place: in the mile, for the Staples track team.)

She says, “Many white people feel that privilege undermines their success and is solely meant to put them down. But using this discomfort to avoid conversation impedes progress.”

Conversations about race are not meant to “expose” white people, Leigh writes. A “color-blind” approach to combating racism won’t work. And, she says, having white privilege is “not a character flaw.” However, “learning to embrace conversations, instead of denying the discomfort, is a step more of us can take.”

Essay winners (from left) Leigh Foran, Colin Morgeson and Ian Patton.

You can read — and reflect on — the 3 winning essays below. (To read the winners of all 9 TEAM Westport essay contests, click here.)


I don’t identify with my race. My whiteness is inherently a part of who I am and
how I move through the world, but the way I see myself, mind and body, has next to nothing to do with my race.

When I look in the mirror, I recognize my face, my hair, my
skin. But I don’t see whiteness.

This isn’t a claim that I’m somehow race-blind. There’s a difference, for me at
least, between identifying with your race and identifying as your race. The former implies a deeper connection to the label, one that means the additional connection to a community.

But whiteness doesn’t come with a community. We have the ability to ignore
our race and develop a cultural identity completely separate from it simply because we are treated as the default. We see people that we’ve been taught to think look like us everywhere, and they see us as “like them.”

That’s part of what it means to live in a white supremacist society. The white presence, even if it’s not in the majority, is the baseline, the standard. White people living within this society don’t have to do any work to figure out their identity. They can live comfortably without thinking about race.

Ian Patton

We don’t have to think about race. That’s an opportunity afforded uniquely to
white people. We’re intrinsically seen as complete individuals, but this construction of identity separate from race means that we lose individual facets as well as the access to a community. The construct of race benefits us, and so questioning it doesn’t come naturally, and most importantly, it’s uncomfortable.

Given a head start and an advantage in every walk of life, we’re desensitized to the feelings of white privilege. I notice it when I’m taught by a nonwhite teacher, and suddenly whiteness doesn’t dominate the classroom. I notice it when looking at a collage of presidents, and the 44th stands out while the others spark no reaction. I notice it when I hear someone I know say something racist, but I don’t know how to respond.

My whiteness allows me to expect certain treatment and be unaware, or ignorant rather, of the feeling of being treated as less than.

Essentially, white thresholds of comfort are much different from systematically
oppressed racial minorities’, especially when it comes to discomfort around race- related topics. Being able to discuss and think critically about race is a skill, one that doesn’t come naturally because race isn’t natural.

Non-white people gather a lifetime’s worth of personal experience that makes them experts on racism, and by extension experts on white people. On the flip side, white people can safely live without caring about systemic racism. We can live our entire lives and still be uninformed.

The white experience doesn’t enable its people to understand race, it just enables us to enforce racism on to the next generation. We have lifetimes of experiences that teach us to, subconsciously or consciously, view people who look different from us as different from us.

Challenging these implicit biases is difficult for everyone, but especially white people who haven’t fully worked through their own relationships with race. We have to acknowledge that our brains are wired in ways that hurt entire communities, but that can easily trigger fragility responses. Especially when our ignorance causes harm to the people of color around us.

When we lash out or shut down after being made uncomfortable, that is evidence of the work we have to do. And white discomfort is dangerous. It’s what causes so many potential allies and accomplices to shy away from activism. lf we can’t handle being held accountable, and if we can’t learn about our history and reality without feeling personally attacked, we are useless to the fight against white supremacy.

White people, you don’t have to be perfect at everything you do. ln fact, wanting
to be the perfect white person is a symptom of white supremacy. But you can want to be good. What you need to do is understand that your imperfections are going to cause harm. Your mistakes will cause harm. And the first step towards improving yourself is to look at yourself and where you’re lacking.

Work through your thoughts, and feelings, and traumas, and prepare yourself for the hard conversations, the conversations that need to happen. White people as a community need to come together and help each other through our racism. We need to reclaim our own identities beyond and through our whiteness, so that we can live and work as fuller human beings. We need to call each other out on our racism, because we’re the ones who won’t be hurt by the microaggressions and self-defensiveness that follows.

Racism was created by people who look like us, so we need to do the work and fix it. lt’s a responsibility.



“What’s wrong with talking about race?”

It was an ordinary lunch period at Staples High School, and on this particular day, my friend and I had elected not to share amusing stories or interesting developments from our lives; no, instead we had decided to discuss racism and education.

For the past 10 minutes, I had been trying to understand why he was adamantly opposed to schools teaching kids about inequalities present in society today. If today’s kids are soon entering such a society, what should stand between them and learning about topics related to the very nature of their world?

My friend was quick to answer my aforementioned question: “Because kids shouldn’t be taught to hate each other.”

The entire discussion had been prompted by a rather contentious subject: critical race theory. You’ve heard about it in the news, or maybe you’ve seen the signs around town, or maybe you’ve even been vocal about your belief on whether or not it belongs in the classroom.

CRT is a simple concept: Race is a social construct, and racist elements are present in American institutions. I’ve always found the debate around CRT uniquely fascinating, because no matter your stance on the issue, everyone seems to agree that it’s an especially divisive issue. Such a simple concept has long been the subject of nationwide debates, and even today, politicians move
to ban CRT from their states’ school curriculums. Clearly, the subject strikes a very particular chord with the masses, triggering particularly potent emotions.

Colin Morgeson

Both my friend and opponents of critical race theory place focus on the inherent ties between societal racism and pride. Indeed, as humans, conversations about our race — people that look like us, people that have experienced things like us, people that are treated like us –-have a certain gravitas, naturally prompting us to defend the honors of those that are similar to us, and it is from this that concerns of “hating each other” spring.

When white people read about the legacies of the Founding Fathers falling under question, it’s only natural that their collective sense of pride feels under attack. When minorities read about the persistence of the wealth gap, it’s only natural that pride compels them to feel indignation.

As someone of both white and minority descent, I’m fortunate enough to have been exposed to multiple sides of racial issues, but large swaths of the population exist in more homogenous communities. For someone who’s spent their entire life surrounded by people like them, why wouldn’t other racial groups become
the villains of their story?

This complex, conflict-prone landscape of tribalism naturally leads people to avoid race-related discussions entirely. But should they?

Racism is an illness, an affliction of the soul that our country has long struggled to vanquish, and a disease that will probably never be completely eradicated. It certainly won’t vanish of its own accord; no, in order to properly treat it, citizens need to make an active effort, and this begins with awareness of systemic racism and its effects.

The wealth gap, hate crimes, and police brutality won’t disappear with plenty of water and a good night’s rest; no, citizens need to be aware of these issues, and awareness is born from discussion. Without discussion, without acknowledgement, without action, we allow the malady to roam unchecked, spreading through the cells that are our communities and taking root in the body that is the United States of America.

Whether we like it or not, the illness will continue its merciless rampage, and the
symptoms will persevere. Every now and then, a flare-up will occur, temporarily drawing attention towards some poor soul who has been gripped by the disease.

Of course, this can’t go on forever: such an ailment is unsustainable. Do you know what happens when an infection goes untreated? Catastrophe.

If pride serves to inflame the disease, then perhaps the proper anti-inflammatory agents in our conversations are humility, level-headedness, and compassion. People shouldn’t be taught to hate each other, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge the world we reside in, faults and all, in order to make it better.

My friend has reservations about the teaching of systemic racism in our schools, but as someone who represents a racial minority himself, he recognizes the need for our society to commit to fighting discrimination. Furthermore, his willingness to share his views and experiences with me proves that despite concerns of divisiveness, he accepts the need to communicate about race in an environment he knows is receptive.

Indeed, talking about societal racism is essential, and though it’s not always easy, a proper approach can turn potential divisiveness into productivity. Through humility, we can accept the reality of our world, past and present. Through level-headedness, we can understand that it’s our actions that ultimately define us. Through compassion, we can empathize with the plight of others, and seek to cure our world as best as we can. Through discussion, we take the first step into becoming the heroes of our stories.



I don’t think we can talk about race without talking about privilege. Without exploring the extensive systematic disparities and historic inequities that have plagued people of color for centuries. Because privilege is both a cause and effect of racism, genuine conversations about race inevitably coalesce into deeper discussions. They force people to acknowledge their own privilege, and this can be an uncomfortable and jarring experience. As such, conversations about
race can be difficult because recognizing privilege can feel like a personal attack.

White privilege has been a long-standing fixture of American society. However, many people get defensive when the conversation tums to this topic. I recently heard a parent in town express his concern that discussing the idea of white privilege in school would make his children question themselves. He said, “I don’t want them feeling bad because they’re white.”

I was disappointed when I heard this, because his perspective represents a widely held misconception. Many white people feel that privilege undermines their success and is solely meant to put them down. But using this discomfort to avoid conversation impedes progress. This type of thinking prevents people from coming to grips with the reality of white privilege; we have to break through these fears to have meaningful discussions.

To prompt more people to join in on the conversation, I think it is important to acknowledge the following truths:

First, conversations about race and privilege are not meant to “expose” white people. These discussions may feel like a direct attack on oneself, one’s achievements, or one’s success. But in reality, having conversations about race and privilege isn’t about vilifying advantaged groups.

In her groundbreaking essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy Mclntosh writes, “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’  to remain oblivious.”

Nowhere does she imply that acknowledging privilege is meant to demonize white people. A conversation about race is not a personal attack; instead we can use this dialogue to understand privilege. This will allow us to develop a more equitable community.

Second, the ironic quality of privilege is that its absence triggers our awareness, not its presence. Mclntosh calls white privilege “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” People who have privilege oftentimes aren’t aware of the way it helps them, oblivious to the unearned advantages they have over others. But people of color are very aware that they lack the same resources and face more implicit bias than their privileged counterparts. Knowing this, conversations are essential to understanding one’s own privilege.

Leigh Foran

Third, conversations about race are not complete without acknowledging privilege — the ways race disadvantages some while it puts others at an advantage. Most people are outraged by the blatant ways race can be a disadvantage – how people of color are subject to atrocious hate

But a holistic approach to stopping racism also requires solving a more subtle problem, one of privilege. A true commitment to rooting out systemic racism takes more than outrage at hate crimes — it takes acknowledging and talking about privilege.

This is largely why the “colorblind” approach to combating racism doesn’t work. It fails to address the inherent advantages certain groups in society possess. By viewing everyone as the same, we ignore how white Americans enjoy privileges denied to people of color. We will fall under the false impression that we live in a meritocratic society, unable to address the inequitable impacts of privilege.

Fourth, the silence surrounding privilege is the key problem here. Constant denials and stigmatization of the issue keep privilege invisible, an unseen contributor to the vast systemic racism present in American workplaces, educational facilities and communities. But we can use conversation to remedy this and shatter the silence.

There is a burgeoning need for more conversation about race. Most people who have privilege aren’t aware of it; so we can create a more conscientious community by discussing the social, political, economic and cultural impacts of privilege.

Finally, having white privilege is not a character flaw. Like the father who was concerned about his kids, discussing privilege makes too many people feel like a figurative finger is being pointed at them, accusing them of perpetuating bias and hatred. They get defensive, and reject the assumption that they are apart of the problem. It’s time to change the way we see privilege.

Conversations are not meant to blame or call people out — they help us understand the causes and impacts of racial inequity.

In spite of all this, so many approach conversations about race with emotionally charged opposition and discomfort. This form of defensiveness hinders the conversation, making it harder to explore privilege and combat racism through civil discourse. Some deny the existence of privilege, citing that many white people have struggled and worked hard to achieve success. But the idea of privilege is not meant to undermine the fact that many white people have overcome difficulties and worked hard to earn their achievements. Simply put, privilege is a congenital advantage, separate from what someone earns or achieves during their lifetime.

It’s easy to decry hate crimes or to make a social media post condemning racist violence. But this is not enough. Too many hide behind the superficial mask of outrage, but don’t take action. Addressing the systemic racism in our society requires a deeper response, and we can use conversation as the starting point in fighting privilege and driving systemic change. We cannot achieve the next phase of racial equality without conscious, purposeful involvement. Learning to embrace conversations, instead of denying the discomfort, is a step more of us can take.

Conversations about race expose privilege, and having the courage to engage is crucial.

TEAM Westport’s Teen Essay Contest Tackles Timely Topic

For 7 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to examine — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year’s contest addresses a broad, complex and crucial issue: Black Lives Matter.

All students attending high school in Westport — or who live here and go to high school elsewhere — are invited to participate. The prompt is:

The statement “Black Lives Matter” has become politicized in our country.  In 1000 words or fewer, describe your own understanding of the statement.  Consider why conversations about race are often so emotionally charged. Given that reality, what suggestions do you have for building both equity and equality in our schools, community and country?

“Since the murder of George Floyd, the nation has moved toward an inflection point on racial reckoning not seen since the Civil War,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“The ultimate resolution of that reckoning will have a profound effect upon the lives of our young citizens. Through it all, ‘Black Lives Matter’ has emerged as ubiquitous in message, aspiration and vision. TEAM Westport looks forward to the exploration of the impact of this phenomenon on our nation and community by Westport students.”

The entry deadline is February 26. The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the contest with TEAMWestport, the town’s multicultural commission.

First prize is $1,000; second prize is $750, and third prize is $500. Click here for he application form.

Students joined many others last spring, at several Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Westport. (Photo/Dan Woog)


Teen Writers Confront Stereotypes

There’s a reason it’s called a “challenge.”

Every year, TEAM Westport — our town’s multicultural commission — challenges high school students to think hard about an important topic. They’re then challenged to write about it.

The 2020 Teen Diversity Essay Contest prompt said:

In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.

As always, they responded. The winners include a Sikh American woman, a gay teen, and a blonde girl.

Their writing is honest, powerful, raw. And it is very, very important.

Sahiba Dhindsa — a Staples High School graduated headed to Cornell University — won the $1,000 first prize for her essay “Stereotypes, Stories, and the Worlds We Create.”

Second place — and $750 — went to recent Staples grad Zachary Terrillion for his story, “Stereotypes: Crippling Standards.” He’ll attend Oberlin College.

Third place, worth $500, went to rising Staples junior Tori Holoubek-Sebok. She wrote “Bombshell.”

The awards were presented virtually Thursday night, at the Westport Library. Click here to see the ceremony (beginning at the 6:50 mark). Better yet, scroll down, and read them below.

1st place: Sahiba Dhindsa, “Stereotypes, Stories, and the Worlds We Create”

Stereotypes are reductions. In a culture of compression, stereotypes reduce long, rich stories into a few descriptive words. By the time we realize what stereotypes are and the damage they do, we have already started internalizing the very ideas from which we seek to break free.

From a young age, I faced many stereotypes. It was easiest for me to assume that others’ actions against me were based on stereotypes rooted in my skin color. I failed to see that it was so much more than my skin color. As a young Sikh American woman, religion and race based stereotypes have driven the microaggressions I have faced in my school and town.

In elementary school, I understood that the lack of knowledge on Sikhism led people to assume I was part of a strange tribal religion that forced me to not
cut my hair. I didn’t tell my peers I was Sikh for 11 years to avoid assumptions about my personal life.

In eighth grade, I had a classmate tell me that I should be his slave because my skin was brown. My gut response was to be defensive. I lashed out and told him that he needed to find a better set of jokes.

Sahiba Dhindsa

I was astounded that someone would say that to me. Through self-reflection years later, I still find it difficult to understand the origin of my classmate’s comment. Because I felt so hurt by these words, and I felt so small––that my whole identity lay in my skin color––I started subconsciously internalizing these
ideas. When I described myself, I was the brown Indian girl who was Sikh and that was it. When I saw others, I immediately differentiated them from myself before they had a chance to differentiate me.

I othered myself to protect myself. Every person who was not on my “side” was the “threat”. I started stereotyping my white peers out of my own frustration.

Angry and frustrated that I was required to defend myself, I started seeing them as ignorant, difficult, and uninterested in making social change.

Freshman year, I had a disagreement with a boy sitting a few seats away from me. I don’t remember what the disagreement was about, but I do remember what he said to me: “Trump’s gonna send you back to wherever you came from.”

It was his final statement––a way to shut me up and make me insecure about my skin color and my ethnicity. While I brushed it off in the moment, it pained me to hear such a hateful comment. I had worked so hard to create a place for myself in this community––to feel as  though I was no different than anyone else despite having a different skin color and religious background.

In that moment, I felt that the confidence I had built for all these years was crumbling. Being brown, being Indian, being Sikh didn’t make me any more immune to hate speech. The stereotype that because

I’m brown, I’m not American, and I don’t belong here, has dominated much of the narrative that others had written for me.

Two years ago, for my U.S History final, my group and I did a presentation on the history of Sikh discrimination in America. At the end of our presentation, my teacher asked me about the correct pronunciation of Sikh and the significance of turbans. To others it may have been a normal expression of curiosity, but to me it was more. It was an individual approaching me from a position of inquiry rather than a position of seeking to reduce me for the sake of simplification.

I now realize that this was a turning point in realizing that I did not have to define myself with a few words simply because some of my peers had done so to me. I could take those words and re-write my story and then share it back with others. I could remove those phrases and instead define myself through the rich story I know I have.

Through this, I learned the true power of storytelling. Storytelling is so much more than simply sharing anecdotes and life experiences. Storytelling is fighting against the desire to define someone or something in a few words. Instead, it is a way to allow one to look at people with a nuance that does justice to their spirit, who they are, what they represent, and what they aspire to be.

We live in a world where everything is compressed and simplified. We’ve shortened our words from long phone conversations to texts to comments on social media. We communicate less and less with each other and by virtue of that compression, compassion becomes harder to come by. I knew if I had
gone through this journey of confronting stereotypes and reimagining myself, my other peers must have gone through it as well.

Due to my desire to hear the stories of others and share my own, I created a club called Unity in Diversity with a friend. The club’s aim was to work on minimizing stereotypes through storytelling. Beyond advocacy, the club became a safe space for individuals from varying racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual orientation backgrounds to tell their stories.

I would like to summarize my experiences and ideas in a few ways. First, I hope my experiences serve as a reminder that racism and prejudice based in ignorance is not a thing of the past, even in a community as inclusive as our own.

Second, I want to express how the acknowledgement and support of an educator can make a monumental difference in the life of a student experiencing microaggressions on a regular basis.

Third, there are few things as therapeutic as being able to share your own experience and being heard by your peers and your teachers. We often underestimate the importance of telling your authentic story: a story that has been defined entirely by you. These are the collective stories that change
the world.

2nd Place: Zachary Terrillion, “Stereotypes: Crippling Standards”

Stereotypes are a fixture of human society. Groups always look towards other groups and create pictures of their surfaces before exploring their depths. They are snapshots that have molded entire perceptions. These snapshots in their narrow borders have been hard to escape.

They are often a burden, sometimes a blessing, but for me, they are an ideal to reach. I have always forced myself to fit these societal Polaroids. For better or worse, I have been defined by these delusional struggles.

To begin, what comes to mind when you think of a gay man? Flamboyant? Outgoing? Sassy? It is these depictions that make up most of the representation, whether it be in dated ’90s sitcoms or even recent gay produced works, such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race or Queer Eye, both of which I still adore.

I am not saying these contemporary, effeminate representations are insensitive or even inaccurate, but they are a single story that has come to dominant the gazes of the heterosexual mainstream. They encompass a vision of a “traditional” gay man. How he walks, talks, and acts. To be considered genuinely gay, I must be fabulous and extroverted, just like the ones on TV.

Before I held myself to standards of queerness however, I dealt with standards of
masculinity. I was never one for sports, which can be difficult as a little boy wanting to fit in with all the other little boys. When my parents thrust me into the world of peewee soccer, I rejected the ball and ran about the field, pretending to be a Jedi. My parents, to their credit, realized manly sports were not my forte, and my overactive imagination was put to practical use within the realm of theater, an environment in which many gay people thrive. It was here where
my queer and creative facets came to fruition, as a supportive space was provided for these elements to emerge without fear of derision by society.

Stereotypes and expectations were not a player in the fluidity of improv or amateur playwriting. Still, because of being exposed to such loving communities from such a young age, I never felt the need to speak up for myself. Thus,
my introversion grew, and my burgeoning queerness became withheld, as no reason was provided for it to arise and be defended.

It was a presence in my life but not readily embraced or expressed. It was a strange median between self-hatred and love. Self-tolerance is how I would
describe it.

I expected my queerness to finally manifest in all its rainbow-colored flamboyance in high school. But, like the soccer fields of yore, I was the odd one out. The gay culture present was the same confident, expressive vision glimpsed on TV. Gays who preferred reading in corners or sitting on their phones at the edges of dance floors proved a rare find.

I was not just clashing with standards of masculinity as most gay men do, but also gayness itself. I somehow fit into neither societal trope. I loved to “spill the tea,” I adopted the feminine gestures shows and films so love to emulate, but I also enjoyed videogames and superheroes, familiar tropes of generalized masculinity. I could not connect with others from either spectrum of sexuality, as I seemed to inhabit elements of both, but resided in neither.

Zachary Terrillion

Because of these stereotypical divides, my introversion would soon devolve into social anxiety and immense insecurity, dreading rehearsals and classes that were once highlights of my week. I figured the only way to achieve social success was to emphasize my queerness above all else. To play right into the tropes
society had established for me, even if it did not connect to my personality.

My anxiety peaked the summer before my sophomore year when I attended a sleepaway program for the first time. Here, my plan to play up the gay would take effect. I escalated my flamboyant mannerisms, exaggerated my tone of voice, and emphasized that I was, in fact, very gay.

My earnest attempts backfired spectacularly. My anxiety only worsened by the end of the program, with not a single friend gained and even more insecurity to top. I wondered whether I was genuinely gay or just some poser. Was I worthy of being in the company of Johnathan Van Ness or was I just some guy who liked other guys.

Through all these struggles however, one aspect of my identity that society could not pin down remained constant. That being the creativity that bloomed on the soccer field, theater, and, currently, my writing.

Through writing, I had a voice true to myself, finding a diverse community of people through which I could thrive and depend on. A community discovered not by playing up parts of myself to adhere to the rules of stereotypes, but instead through the expression of my multifaceted truth.

All my interests and traits, both masculine and feminine, could be put into highly dynamic works of prose and poetry. These were pieces that explored the nuances of queerness that the media could not.

Overall, I have never taken stereotypes as villainizing in the conventional sense. I have not suffered through discrimination or oppression instigated by their hand. Instead, they worked to force me into a box, a servant following the will of a director in a performance society mandates.

However, through honing my traits, those too complex and niche to be generalized, these stereotypes no longer must apply. One can discover their truth through distinction in the face of generalization.

We must encourage our marginalized youth to explore the nuanced parts of themselves in order to evade standards and achieve authenticity. Only then, will the maligned snapshots of yore fade away, so more layered, accommodating portraits may come to the forefront.

3rd place, Tori Holoubek-Sebok, “Bombshell”

Blue eyed, blond haired, athletic, female. With just those words you already have a picture in your mind of who I am, or who you think I am. The “dumb blonde” persona is an excruciatingly common stereotype, but one that is often overlooked. Everyone knows of it, yet no one considers it to be a legitimate offense.

Compared to others, it appears to be trivial; merely a lighthearted joke. However the consistent repetition and application of this stereotype, on both personal and general levels, has transformed the label into something with much more substance and impact than many can see.

In an era of political correctness and common decency, it is important to acknowledge that this stereotype in no way is any comparison to those applied with strong racial, religious, or truly hateful undertones. I understand that I am privileged in numerous ways and want to make clear that I would never compare my experiences to the endless number of minorities who face racism and discrimination daily, any member of the LGBT+ community who experience violence or negativity for being who they are, or any other individual who has to live through the hardships of prejudice and hate.

Though all examples, including my own, are instances of assumption and judgement based on physicality, the stereotype that I am labeled with is at a
lower degree than the others, and that should be made clear.

Despite this, being classified as the common dumb blonde is a hurtful label that I have faced my entire life. People repeatedly making assumptions about who I am from the way I look impedes my mindset and the way I view myself.

However, it is not only the direct labeling I experience that makes an impact. The media presence of this stereotype is outstanding and has its own consequences.

Actresses like Marilyn Monroe have been characterized as naive and
materialistic, acting as merely symbols of attraction when they have significantly more substance. Monroe was classified as a “blonde bombshell” and was virtually only cast for parts which represented that. The color of her hair was enough to form her identity and her true self was hidden by the layering of the same character over and over. People began to perceive her as
the characters she played because of the constant repetition of the same persona.

No matter how far her personality strayed from that of a dumb blonde, it did not matter. People saw this stereotype, and transformed it into who Marilyn was.

The overwhelming presence of stereotypes in the media also has effects on its consumers; people can second guess themselves and be overly critical when they are constantly surrounded by these personas.

No matter the stereotype, seeing its representation can prompt insecurities and doubts within oneself. I have often been unsure of my intellect because of these reasons. I see the negativity inflicted on women as soon as I open Instagram; anonymous accounts criticizing models or people of influence, saying that their words should not be taken seriously because they are blonde and therefore incompetent.

Tori Holoubek-Sebok

Often times in my classes I can be confident in an answer, but hesitate sharing it aloud, too afraid of what my classmates or teacher will think of it. The dumb blonde stereotype has created paranoia in my brain, leaving me to wonder if I do embody the characteristics of this persona.

Whether it be in school, at home, or by myself, I am never free from the labels I am assigned. From the people all around me to even myself, my integrity and
intelligence are consistently in question.

In most cases, a family is made up of the people that know you the most, the people who will always support you. Never did I think that those same people would make such a bold assumption of my character. I have always been athletic and have played a variety of sports, but exercise has never been an interest of mine nor something I had thought about until one Christmas day when my grandparents gave my siblings identical coding kits and gave me
exercise equipment instead.

I had never given my grandparents any reason to think that I would want a core exercise ball and a set of weights over the coding sets my siblings received, and yet, that is what I got.

Blondes have been commonly classified as vain and shallow, notorious for only caring about the way they look. My blonde hair represented a stereotype, so I was assumed to be this stereotype and appearance was taken as my main priority.

Meanwhile, I would have much preferred experimenting with coding just like my siblings. This particular occasion prompted a spiral of increasing self awareness in the way that I look and the way others perceive me.

I have since found myself constantly needing to prove my integrity to those around me. In my experience, the application of the dumb blonde stereotype is rarely intentional. Though there are instances of real hostility communicated through stereotypes, I believe that labeling in this manner is most often a subconscious ordeal.

Because of this, reasoning is not the necessary method to eliminate the beliefs in stereotypes Raising awareness of the presence of the stereotypes is. Spreading consciousness is the best way to begin the decrease unfair judgments, because ensuring that people know that these stereotypes exist will prompt them to be conscious of the way they may regard others.

Change can seem like an ambitious request, but all we need is a few people. These people can initiate the process and share it amongst the people in their lives and from there it can take off; going from towns, to states, to countries, the recognition of stereotypes will spread like wildfire.

If globally, and as a community, we can expand our wealth of knowledge and share insights with our peers, everyone will gain a greater understanding of their impact on those who surround them.