COVID-19 has drastically impacted the way that High School North is conducting school this year. Students log on to Zoom from their computers every day. In-school teachers are greeted with near-empty classrooms every morning. And club officers have struggled to keep their groups active from their houses.
Indeed, the pandemic has impacted the operation of the clubs here in the North. . Recently, I had the chance to talk to the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club president Justin Epstein about his club and its goals for the future in a virtual environment.
“GSA’s main objective is spreading awareness and creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals in our school community,” said Epstein. As the president puts it, the GSA club focuses on teaching tolerance, as well as encouraging the acceptance of differences in our school community. This is done through assemblies with guest speakers, club discussions, and panels with health educators, teachers, and other students.
However, GSA is definitely starting to look different this year. In terms of 2021, members of the GSA club have clear objectives in mind. “We are currently working on reforming the English curriculums in K-12 to open the discussion about gender and sexuality in a classroom setting,” voiced Epstein. “We aim to spread awareness and create a safe space for LGBTQ individuals in our community.” The reforms that GSA is trying to implement into the district curriculum are crucial in bolstering awareness about issues regarding gender and sexuality, and by what means this can be taught in the classroom. Over time, these changes benefit students by helping them better understand LGBTQ+ matters.
Undoubtedly, GSA’s goals come with the burden of communication being solely virtual rather than face-to-face.“Virtual clubs have affected the types of activities we do – it is more difficult for us to work with staff and other people when we are not meeting in person. Additionally, some members of the club do not feel safe joining from home, so our attendance has changed,” the club president remarked. Epstein’s comments perfectly reveal the extent to which the pandemic has impacted the club dynamic of not only GSA but many other student groups right now. Unfortunately, one of the costs is a loss in the safe space that the Alliance had originally provided to its members, affecting their ability to spread awareness towards their overarching message.
Despite the challenges that this year has presented to GSA, they’re looking for other opportunities to engage in while waiting for the return of face-to-face meetings. “We’d like to present at the Education fair that we missed out on last year so that teachers will be provided with training on how to approach these topics in school,” expressed Epstein.
In a year as difficult as this one, it is important to support our club officers and student groups at North who are doing as much as they can to maintain club spirit: GSA is one example of that. With an inspiring and ambitious mission statement, North is excited to see how much the Gay-Straight Alliance will accomplish this year and in the years to come.