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STAAR shines bright amid the loss of their leadership class

Grace Sykes
STAAR gave white students an opportunity to learn about BIPOC history, cultures, and what they could do to fight racism.

Students Taking Action for Anti-Racism (STAAR) at Archie Williams puts on beautiful cultural festivals, performances, and informational events to raise awareness on Anti-Racist actions. In the past, STAAR operated as a leadership class. Due to low enrollment, the class has become a club.

STAAR founder LoRyane Ortega initially established the anti-racist club seven years ago. She found lunchtime meetings to be too short of a time to get important club business done. Five years ago, STAAR joined the master schedule as a leadership class.

“We were super excited to have the class, because lunch is too short of a time… We really only had twenty minutes,” Ortega said. “When it became official that we were able to have a class, it was super exciting. We felt seen, like, ‘oh my goodness, they can tell that this is real, they want to support this very important purpose’.”

STAAR thrived as a class, as the group had more time to plan actions and make changes within the school community. Ortega also had time to focus on teaching students about BIPOC history, a component that she finds crucial to anti-racism leadership.

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“You can’t just go out and make change if you don’t understand what you’re trying to change. It requires education. So having a class period for STAAR made me feel very hopeful because [we had] the time to do some learning, and that’s the foundation of making change,” Ortega said.

STAAR fosters a community for BIPOC at a predominantly white school. Senior Nelly Vallejos applied for the class sophomore year, where she took the role of social media manager, forming  friendships with peers who shared similar experiences as her.

“My friend told me about a class where she felt safe as a person of color… so I wanted to join too,” Nelly said.

“My friend told me about a class where she felt safe as a person of color… so I wanted to join too,”

— Nelly Vallejos

In recent years, Archie Williams has taken steps to become a more inclusive community for BIPOC students and staff members. These steps include changing the name from Sir Francis Drake, a pirate and slave trader, to Archie Williams, an African-American U.S. Air Force officer, Olympic gold medalist, and teacher at Drake High School. Many Fairfax/San Anselmo community members felt that by choosing to name the school after Archie Williams, the school attempted to demonstrate its progressiveness and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

During this time, the community’s focus on racial injustice resulted in an influx of students interested in joining STAAR.

“The class was super full in my sophomore year. I think it was because of the Black Lives Matter protests… but [people treated it] like a trend, so I feel like people didn’t want to join this year because it’s ‘irrelevant.’ It’s sad,” Nelly said.

The class also gave white students an opportunity to learn about BIPOC history, cultures, and what they could do to fight racism. Senior Skylar Hellman decided to apply for STAAR in 2020 after witnessing Zoom discussions around the school name change.

“It kind of made me aware of how a lot of people in our community don’t think about things surrounding race,” Skylar said. “I was hearing a lot like, ‘Oh, the name doesn’t affect me.’ But it does affect you because you’re a part of our community, and I wanted to do something about it.”

Skylar appreciated the educational aspect of the class, as it deepened her understanding of racism.

“To have a resource like STAAR as an anti-racist leadership class was so important. I felt like I could really learn a lot from this class and I could have an opportunity to use my voice and hear other people’s voices,” Skylar said.

While disappointed that STAAR will no longer be on her daily class schedule, Skylar hopes the STAAR community will stay strong as a club through communication and regular meetings. She hopes that more students will take an interest in STAAR now that it won’t take up a class on their schedule.

“I think a lot of people joined in 2020 around the name change era because anti-racism was very mainstream at the time. It still is very much for some people, but some people don’t see it as much on their feeds anymore. We live in a very privileged community, so it makes sense that a lot of the white folks don’t really see those issues every day and don’t [feel the] need to do anything about it,” Skylar said.

Former STAAR student, senior Esme Garcia feels that the influx of performative students was the downfall of the class due to those student’s low commitment.

“I feel like a lot of people took the class because they thought it would [make them] look good, not because they actually cared about anti-racism or upliftment to people of color in our community. It was more like, ‘Oh, if I do this, I’m gonna look good,’ or, ‘If I do this, I can transfer it to another leadership [class] later on’. That just wasn’t the mentality [anyone] should have had going into the class,” Esme said.

Esme suspects that STAAR’s reputation on campus led to the student body’s low interest in joining this year. She noticed that the class routinely promoted their events and opinions in ineffective ways.

“The biggest issue was publishing and how we came off to everyone on campus. It felt like we were very assertive… We also had a lot of issues with other leaderships; we were the fun police,” Esme said.

While STAAR’s previous setbacks cannot be undone, the club is looking forward to finding their way during this new chapter. Members are currently navigating the steps that they will take to broaden their audience and teach anti-racism within the community.

This story was originally published on The Pitch on October 26, 2023.