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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Essay Winners Underscore Westport’s Lack of Diversity

By James Lomuscio

TEAM Westport’s three winning essayists, all Staples High School students, took their hometown to task tonight for offering everything but de facto diversity.

WestportNow.com Image
TEAM Westport essay winners (l-r) Eliza Llewelynn (second place), Megan Root (first place), and Kyle Baer (third place) are flanked by TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey (l) and First Selectman Jim Marpe. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“I think Staples’ classes present a lot of the right questions, but the dearth of diversity means there are perspectives I’ve never heard,” writes Megan Root, a junior who won the $1,000 first prize for “Diversity: the Maestro of Innovation.”

Her thesis says that the lack of cultural exposure in a community that is 93 percent white does not “back the egalitarian ideals taught in history class and encouraged by our community.”

“Instead, our relative lack of interaction means many cultures remain unfamiliar to us, and humans tend to fear the unknown,” she said.

In the awards ceremony held at the Westport Library’s McManus Room, similar theses were presented by second place winner Eliza Llewellyn, a Staples senior who took home $750, and Kyle Baer, a junior, who came in third for a $500 prize.

It was TEAM Westport’s first annual diversity essay contest, coinciding with the group’s tenth anniversary in Westport. The organization, its acronym standing for Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism, was formed during the administration of First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, said TEAM Westport Chairman Harold Bailey.

WestportNow.com Image
Several dozen persons attended tonight’s TEAM Westport essay awards ceremony at the Westport Library. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“We couldn’t be more delighted with the caliber of the work,” said Bailey, adding that while Westport does not have “the kind of diversity you find in other towns, what we can all work on is our attitude.”

Baer did not pull any punches in his composition titled “Westport: A Bubble Refuses to Pop.” Noting that as the country becomes more diverse over the next 30 years, his generation will become part of the “majority minority.” He argued, “Westport is a town in crisis” with only a “peppering of minorities.”

“To be stuck in an upper class, all-white town in the coming years will be a significant disadvantage to students,” Baer writes. “We have little choice but to evolve, or risk losing our appeal as a family-friendly town.”

Baer, however, does not seem optimistic.

“Yet the path on which Westport is headed shows, as of yet, no signs of diverging,” he concludes.

Llewellyn, who will be Staples 2014 valedictorian, described in “No Longer 91 Percent” her own diversity, growing up in a family that is half-Welsh and half-Chinese. 

“I too would benefit from increased multiculturalism in Westport,” she writes. ” ...It will ultimately build my identity; I am more than a Westporter, or even a Chinese-European. I am a citizen of the world.” 

WestportNow.com Image
TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey said while Westport does not have “the kind of diversity you find in other towns, what we can all work on is our attitude.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Redding resident Judith Hammer, a writer and editor formerly of Westport and one of the contest’s judges, noted that it did not take long for the judges to decide on the winners.

She said they were chosen for their “startling images,” voice, content, organization and word choice “that encouraged the reader.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe, who said that he had read each of the essays prior to tonight’s awards, was on hand to congratulate the winners.

“I was really taken by your essays, the depth and the insight,” he said.


Posted 04/01/14 at 02:04 AM  Permalink


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Ms Root’s essay is very well and very maturely written.  Especially, her point about folks tending to “fear the unknown” is an important take away.

However, it is the quality of the education Ms. Root is getting at her “undiversified” school that helps keep real estate prices out of reach for those who would bring diversity.

Her Hobson’s choice, then,is to get the fine education available here without diversity, or a far less fine education available where diversity reigns.

Posted by Daniel Katz on April 01, 2014 at 09:41 AM | #

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