Multicultural Student Union at Oregon High School on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019.

Multicultural Student Union at Oregon High School on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019.

Deja Smith listens as fellow Multicultural Student Union member questions the ethics of reading the N-word out loud from books at an MSU meeting at Oregon High School on Thursday, Nov. 14.

Gaining diverse influence

As Carlie Monroe stood in front of about 20 students at Oregon High School last month, the senior asked her fellow students, representing a variety of races and backgrounds, “What have you experienced?”

She didn’t have to explain her question or provide details before seven students immediately raised their hands.

The students, all members of the Multicultural Student Union, which Monroe founded a year ago, each listed racist remarks, microaggressions and cultural appropriations they had witnessed or experienced over the past week alone.

One year ago, at the first MSU meeting, six students of color sat around that circle showing support for their peers and sharing stories. Now, the group numbers 40 in all and regularly draws 20 students or more every Thursday.

But today it is more than a support system, Monroe said. The organization is gaining influence and making OASD a supportive, safe and comfortable place for all students.

It pledges to tutor, create awareness for white educators and be a support network for students of color in a district where 87.2% of students self identify as white, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Monroe and other MSU students frequently meet with principal Jim Pliner and OHS counselor Alyssa Pon-Franklin to discuss ways in which the district can be more inclusive. Pon-Franklin is the only educator of color at the school, though soon she will be leaving the district to accept a position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At the group’s first meeting, she recalled, she asked the students if they were comfortable in the building.

“Every single student said they felt like they didn’t belong,” Pon-Franklin said.

Today, however, the voices of MSU are amplified and students hope to be heard from school to school to ensure all students feel as if they belong.

“This is a wonderful group of students who have so many strengths,” OHS principal Jim Pliner wrote to the Observer in an email. “The MSU helps provide a voice for students and it is important that these stories are heard. The stories there reaffirm the importance of the work that we, as a school and as a district, have committed to doing.

“The stories also convince me that we have more work to do.”

Contact Mackenzie Krumme at

mackenzie.krumme@wcinet.com.