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Aiyer '15 Wins Social ,justice Honor

Brita Mackey

The Princeton Prize for Race Relations recognized Jaya Aiyer '15 this April with a regional Certificate of Accomplishment, awarded to high school students who "have made or are making efforts to improve racial harmony," according to its website. Jaya is one of three Massachusetts laureates chosen out of an applicant pool in the triple digits and the first student in school history to win the honor.

The Princeton Prize awards scholarships to students regionally and nationally. To earn recognition, students must take part in school organizations that help improve race relations in their communities as well as write a series of essays about their work. A ceremonial dinner in Boston on May 5 will be hosted by the Princeton Prize to celebrate the prize winners locally.

Multicultural Director Lewis Bryant, who advised Jaya to apply for the award, said he has only prompted about 10 students to apply in the past decade, all for their dedication to diversity and social justice in the school community.

"Jaya has been willing to educate herself about diversity and has consistently applied those lessons over the past years," Mr. Bryant said, referring• to her membership in the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and to her copresidential positions in two school social justice clubs, including Women's Issues Group (WIG) and Students Honoring All Differences and Embracing Similarities (SHADES). "She is an inspiration to me and to her peers."

A four-year member of all three of these clubs, Jaya credited many teachers for kindling her interest in social justice, among them Mr. Bryant, English Teacher Alda Farlow, and Arabic Teacher Amani Abu Shakra. She has always been interested in social justice, she added, but was especially inspired to promote diversity after attending the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) her sophomore year. "SDLC made me realize that I have the ability to change our community," she said.

To that end, using activities and techniques often employed at SDLC and other conferences, Jaya and other involved members of GSA, WIG, and SHADES are developing a proposal for an annual "cultural day" that will "continue the diversity conversation" at school, she said. Another goal is to make the school curricula more "diversity-centered" in the future.

Although Jaya said the school still isn't as comfortable with diversity as it could be, she is impressed with the progress she has observed over the past four years.

"There is a more open environment at school," she said. "Students definitely feel comfortable sharing their differences, and there is a lot more connection between diversity clubs. "

SHADES Co-President Eptisam Kassim '17 agreed, commending Jaya for helping this change take place.

"She encouraged me and my friends to get involved in SHADES and WIG, and she is obviously very dedicated to social justice," Eptisam said. "She definitely deserved to win this."

In fact, one of Jaya's greatest accomplishments as a leader of SHADES has been her work to include and inspire younger students to get involved in social justice, Mr. Bryant said.

For Jaya's part, she said social justice work is likely to be in her life in college and beyond. "Now that I am leaving BB&N and Boston, I want to continue to immerse myself in the social justice movement beyond our community," she said. "There is still a lot to be done." 

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