“Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and humanize,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains in her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” This sentiment is especially true when individuals tell their own stories about their identity, communities, and experiences.
When we arrived at Sidwell Friends School (DC) in 9th grade from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (MD), we were struck by the diversity of the student body. When we learned that Sidwell didn’t have a publication to highlight the many cultures of its students or current social inequality issues, we sought to create one. In 2014, further inspired by our Student Diversity Leadership Conference experience and with the help of faculty advisors, we created Insight magazine. Its goal is to create a space for students to share their own stories to encourage understanding and inspire action within our school’s student body and greater community.
Insight is a youth-led and institutionally backed platform for dialogue. The magazine is printed three times a year (increasing to four next year) and is distributed on campus; a schoolwide email announces the arrival of each issue, which explores cultures, lifts voices, and interrogates injustices. Its articles and artwork elucidate the complexities within communities and social inequities. Its contributors seek to expand the cultural lens of students, faculty, administrators, and parents, and provide a shock to complacency and an antidote to intolerance.
As recent political rhetoric vilified immigrants, our magazine celebrated the resilience of first-generation American students, examined interfaith solidarity through the eyes of Muslim peers, and featured frequently overlooked elements of foreign cultures, like Pakistani truck art. Articles have also praised “black girl magic,” investigated the problematic and often sexist nature of beauty ideals, and offered avenues for student activism.
In the three years since its founding, Insight has reached more than 2,000 students and teachers from various DC schools, provided a space for more than 100 unique voices, and won multiple awards from the American Scholastic Press Association, including “Best Service to Community.” Currently, an editorial staff of seven Sidwell students, along with three dedicated faculty advisors, works with contributors to generate articles and artwork.
Our vision is that high schools nationwide will become a part of the Insight community and, by extension, will create a national coalition where students—hearing directly from other students—can explore cultures other than their own. To do this, schools can create their own Insight-branded magazines using Insight’s publication format and other available resources, such as a layout bank and a comprehensive Insight magazine manual. Nearly a dozen schools in the DC area have started doing this. Students can also collaborate on an annual interschool issue with other regional schools, much like we’ve done at Sidwell: For the past few winter issues, several DC-area independent schools came together to create one magazine featuring submissions from students at all the partner schools, which was distributed at all the participating schools. Students and schools can also connect and share at insightdiversitymagazine.org or the magazine’s Facebook page.
Students are often told they are the leaders of tomorrow, but as we learned from the Civil Rights Movement, we are the leaders of today. Insight strives to embody that notion.