By Kuhu Badgi—Political Editor
Last week, students and staff at Sharon High School viewed a presentation by Jennifer de León, a Latina author and English professor at Framingham State University. De Leon was invited by Sharon High School’s language coordinator, Dr. Maureen Magnan, to honor Hispanic Heritage Month.
Magnan says that she wanted to inspire students and staff to follow dreams in spite of whatever barriers life throws their way. “I hope her presentation can promote discourse as we encourage each other to tell/write our own stories. With an open heart, quiet thoughtfulness, and perseverance, the impossible can become possible,” said Magnan.
De Leon spoke via Zoom about her experiences growing up in a Latino family in a primarily white suburb. She answered questions from viewers and shared an excerpt from her newest Young Adult novel, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From. Specifically, the excerpt discussed the story of the fictional protagonist Lilliana Cruz during her time in an immigration class in Boston Public Schools. The class in the novel discussed the controversy surrounding Immigration Policy and shared several perspectives towards the point of contention.
Senior Hanna Bielawa says they were moved by De Leon. “She spoke so bravely about the racism she’s faced — she was really admirable,” said Bielawa.
However, not all community members were as enthusiastic about the presentation. Sixty-five Sharon parents and residents wrote and signed a letter to the School Committee requesting changes to the selection of speakers in the future. The letter was shared in Sharon community groups on Facebook, specifically “Sharon What’s Up”.
“We are very concerned about a September 23rd speaker event in Sharon Public Schools by Jennifer De Leon…,” stated the letter. “Students report that during the event, Ms. De Leon read from her books and made controversial statements about the former president, immigration policies, microaggressions, and the negative impact that growing up surrounded by white people supposedly had on her.”
Additional concerns were brought up regarding the presentation’s ties to Critical Race Theory, which is defined as “an academic movement of US civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to critically examine the intersection of race and US law.”
The post on the community forum was met with more than 250 comments and responses both in agreement and disagreement with the thoughts presented.
Seniors Jasmine Ni and Hanna Bielawa published a letter on Facebook forums sharing their letter to community response with signatures of more than 300 Sharon High students.
“We, Sharon High School students, are deeply disappointed by the letter sent to the School Committee… Ms. De Leon’s presentation was engaging and thoughtful and taught us much about the realities of racism in our world. Her lived experiences provided valuable insight into what it means to be both a Latina as well as a Boston-borne author,” the letter said.
In addition to sharing the valuable lessons learned from De Leon’s presentation, the letter highlighted concerns from the community letter. “The language of the letter is incredibly demeaning and seems to gaslight Ms. De Leon. Her supposed “controversial statements” were not controversial. They were grounded in her personal history. They are not up for debate,” the student letter stated.
Botelho says he would be happy to hear from and speak to students who might have felt conflicted by De Leon’s presentation as well as those who have already communicated that they greatly appreciated hearing the stories of De Leon.
He followed up with a letter highlighting the importance of diversity in Sharon Public Schools. “It is our duty as a system to prepare students to live and contribute to a growingly diverse and complex society. This includes exposing the students to a diverse range of topics and perspectives,” said Botelho.