Eraced Catalyzes Dialogue on Race

BY JULIA KIM staff writer

Kian Broder Wang’s video, Eraced, was a product of frustration. Broder Wang, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), meant to start a discussion about the lack of students of color within BIHS.

Eraced is an eleven-minute video with eleven interviews of current and former BIHS students and teachers, all of different ethnicities and backgrounds, as they share their unique views.

The video was made in Mr. Halpern’s Art of Video Production class as Broder Wang’s final attempt to bring the issue of lack of diversity within BIHS to the forefront.

Broder Wang said, “When I first came to BIHS I was pretty unaware of my surroundings … which were primarily white, and just figured it was a part of the high school experience.”

During sophomore year, Broder Wang began to  discuss this situation with his friends and found that “many of [his] classmates were placed into BIHS against their will, felt isolated, or felt that they could not speak up because their ideas would be rejected due to the color of their skin.”

By junior year, Broder Wang decided it was time to confront the issues within the BIHS community. When he realized that no one was willing to receive his message in BIHS leadership as junior class president, he found other means of expression.

Broder Wang did so by compiling over six hours of interview footage and putting  in countless more hours of work into editing and crafting his video with the intent of catalyzing a conversation. He said he wanted to do this by providing “a platform for students who felt they couldn’t speak up to have their voices to be heard.”

When asked about his film’s subject matter, Broder Wang said he “felt it was an issue which we all knew about, but that no one acknowledged.”  

Each student interviewed dissects their personal experiences of being a person of color inside of the hyper-academic BIHS community. Eraced contains snippets of interviews with students and teachers carefully building off of one another’s statements. The general consensus is clear and articulated well in the video by Camila Rice-Aguilar, a then BIHS junior: the “predominately white environment” within BIHS is “not reflective of the students who attend Berkeley High.” Because of this situation, there are widespread sentiments of isolation and lack of community. The inability to identify with peers and classmates can be uncomfortable for some students of color and intolerable for others.

Another issue, raised by BIHS English teacher Alan Miller, was the feeling that students of color often had to be put in the unfair position of being a “representative for their group.” The video concludes with suggestions for internal community building through breaking down dividers, facilitating difficult discussions on race, being aware of  class dynamics that can often be dominated by white students, and fostering inclusive participation.

Eraced has garnered attention both inside and outside of the BHS community. The video was picked up by Berkeleyside and is also on YouTube with over four thousand views. Broder Wang is very pleased with the reception of the video. The circulation of Eraced, especially within BIHS, has spurred numerous dialogues confronting the issues brought up within the video: polarized classroom environments and race dynamics within BIHS.   

The reaction from BIHS teachers as a whole has been in direct support of fostering a more welcoming environment for students. According to BIHS humanities teacher Ross Parker, “when something like the Eraced video comes out, it is a potent reminder … that you have to not have your blinders on to the experiences of students.”

One issue that has been attributed to the lack of diversity within BIHS is the competitive atmosphere that focuses strictly on academic subject versus building connection. As a way to challenge BIHS’ stereotypical image, teachers like BIHS English teacher Karen Zapata are trying to “create classrooms where students are recognized for the unique individual they are.” Through “sharing personal stories and experiences,” Zapata is working towards shattering systemic racism which often “creates a situation where young people of color are not seen.”  Classes within BIHS, including Social Living, are structured towards “developing personal relationships with students.” BIHS humanities teacher Becky Villagran does so by “modeling open sharing as a teacher of color,” so that students of color feel willing to take risks within the class as well.

Another means of support that was mentioned multiple times in Eraced and also endorsed by teachers like Villagran is a “buddy system,” especially “with students of color who have had positive BIHS experiences beginning with freshman year.” Former BIHS student, Atzin Trigueros Pavon, now a CAS junior, agreed that “if there was greater outreach and internal help within BIHS,” it would have been a “great motivator” for himself and “other younger students of color.”

Another issue brought up in the discussion within Eraced when addressing the dwindling numbers of students of color through grade progression is the lack of curriculum beyond eurocentric content. Maia Rodriguez Choi, a BIHS junior, has noticed “BIHS trying to go away from eurocentrism” by “focusing on [issues such as] colonization and talking about race versus letting it be the elephant in the room.” Though BIHS actively tries to incorporate an array of coursework, it can still be difficult to address material even when it “has multiple points of view … and allows students’ points of view as well,” said Parker, as it takes tactful facilitation to make sure that a diverse range of perspectives is being heard.

BIHS Leadership and faculty acknowledged some of the issues raised in Eraced during the recent BIHS student assembly. Speakers described their different experiences  being the only students of color in their classes. BIHS Leadership also showed videos about how to combat the competitive atmosphere and be more caring students.  The assembly helped to further engage students in conversations about the issues within BIHS.

Broder Wang’s Eraced along with the students of color who vocalized their relationships with BIHS were successfully able to spur a conversation and raise awareness about the vulnerability of students of color within this small school. As Co-President of BIHS this year, Broder Wang is determined to continue his efforts to change the spirit  and culture of BIHS to make it a more inclusive and welcoming community with the insights of the rawness and the realities of being a student of color in BIHS. As BIHS teachers, staff, and students continue to engage with one another and continue the conversation of what the small school should live up to, the time for change and improvement is now. Lights, camera, and action towards a more welcoming BIHS environment!