HNHS Diversity Club members know different is OK

Huntington North High School students (from left) Morgan Murray, freshman; Kailey Kelley, senior; and Jayden Swihart, sophomore; put aside class differences as they work together on a Diversity Club project on Sept. 14 after school. The club, which explores diverse social cultures, welcomes anyone to be a member.
Huntington North High School students (from left) Morgan Murray, freshman; Kailey Kelley, senior; and Jayden Swihart, sophomore; put aside class differences as they work together on a Diversity Club project on Sept. 14 after school. The club, which explores diverse social cultures, welcomes anyone to be a member. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Sept. 25, 2017.

Inside Room 115 after school hours at Huntington North High School, one girl, working on a poster that advocates love, has bright blue hair. Nearby is a boy who, he announces, is openly gay. Others have noticeable — or not necessarily noticeable — differences about them. But they all say the same thing about the club they belong to: it’s a safe place to be.

KJ Prickett, a junior, says Diversity Club is an oasis in the middle of some of the unkind behavior that is unleashed on students who are “different.”

“A lot of us in here are in the LGBTQ community, and outside of these doors, a lot of us get teased very badly,” she says. “I had a friend who wanted to commit suicide from it, and it can get very intense sometimes in this school.

“There are not a lot of very nice people, so within these walls it’s drama-free and we all love each other for who we are, no matter who you are … We do a lot of very cool things.”

Between 10 and 35 students attend the club, which meets each Thursday after school. All are welcome. As one might expect, no putdowns are allowed in Diversity Club; the purpose of the club is to learn about and celebrate different types of diverse culture in the world, explains the club’s sponsor, HNHS Spanish Teacher Emily Hoff.

“The purpose of the club, initially, was to create a space for all students to feel safe and welcome,” she says. “That’s kind of how it got started. Now the students are very much into anti-bullying, equal rights and mostly just celebrating diversity.”

Junior Cameron Jagger is passionate about being in the club, ever since he first heard about it two years ago from some of his friends. He says no one is rejected from attending the club, for any reason.

“It was a safe place for people to go … I came one time and I really liked it,” he says. “I met my best friends in this club.

“For the past two years I’ve been here I’ve come really close with people and made bonds with them. I couldn’t possibly live without them, because they mean so much to me now.”

Jagger says the most important thing he’s learned from being in the club is that “different is OK.”

“No matter where you come from, who you are, your religion, your sexuality, it doesn’t matter,” he says, adding he’s had his own share of bullying from other kids at school.

“There are people in this school that really disliked me before they knew me, because I’m gay,” he relates. “They called me ‘fag’ and names behind my back at school, and someone had threatened to beat me up before and worse.

“But I’m glad that it’s toward me, because I am strong and I can handle it rather than someone who can’t.”

Jagger adds that one rule in the club is to leave the drama behind, just be one, and hang out.

Among its activities, Diversity Club hosts open mic events every other month, allowing students to open up about whatever is on their hearts and minds.

“We just have conversations about, mostly self love, some issues that the kids will have, whether it be bullying or depression or problems at school,” Hoff says. “We just try to make a place where people feel like they can talk openly.”

Other recent activities have included a field trip to a Mexican restaurant, going to Fort Wayne to view a film and shop at Hyde Brothers Bookstore, participating in the Walk for Hope at the HNHS Fieldhouse, which focuses on suicide awareness, and passing out hand-drawn buttons as they walked in the International Peace Day Walk this past week in Huntington.

Future plans include collecting books to donate to the Allen County Jail for inmates to read, accompanied by handmade bookmarks with encouraging words.

“But we usually just kind of hang out here and just accept each other,” Prickett adds.

Prickett likes the fact that her blue locks make her stand out in the crowd. Sometimes it comes with a price if she gets teased or receives less than polite comments. But what she’s learned in the club is armor and ammunition she can take out into the world when dealing with others.

“Honestly, just don’t judge somebody by the way they look or the way they act, because not everybody is as strong as they look, and everybody has something going on in their life that you don’t know about,” she admonishes.

“It’s nice to just even say ‘hi’ to somebody sometimes. It’s something so little, but it can make people so happy.”

Hoff says she is excited about the support the club has received from members of the community.

“It’s been really important for the students to see that there are people who support them who are adults that they might not know,” she says. “I feel that since Diversity Club has been growing, there have been more and more people reaching out and telling me what an awesome thing it is and how they think it’s been needed a long time.”