The Southerner

Rachel’s Challenge won’t solve our problems

Junior Lamia Abukhadra, Student Writer

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In January, Rachel’s Challenge called our entire school to assembly. During assembly, we were told about how great a girl living in the suburbs of Colorado was, and how kindness and self affirmation would help us eliminate the problems in our school. While Rachel’s Challenge presents a good message about the importance of kindness, believing in oneself, and anti-bullying, the presentation and the solutions provided to create a more welcoming community were alienating and unrealistic to the issues South deals with.

After Rachel Scott was shot and killed during the Columbine massacre, Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying organisation, was founded with the help of her father. Rachel’s father has also released a number of books and DVD’s in which he is quoted calling Rachel “a Christian martyr”. The video South students watched also indirectly martyred Rachel. For an hour and a half, we listened to Rachel’s friends, family, and a representative from the organization talk about how wonderful Rachel was and what an impact she had and still has on everyone. She was praised for her ability to include people, be herself, and believe that she was going to be something special. We were encouraged to be like Rachel, because she changed her friends’ lives and is now affecting schools across the country with the organization going under her name. She was also compared to Anne Frank, a Jewish martyr who died during the Holocaust, and coincidentally kept a diary just like Rachel. Next, Martin Luther King and Rachel were compared because in the organization’s view their legacies and movements have equally touched people’s lives.

Think about it. Before Rachel died, she was an ordinary high school student. She recognized the power of kindness, but wasn’t able to leverage it to a great extent. During the presentation, nothing was mentioned about her community involvement to actually start the movement she so believed in before her death. The presentation trivialized the hard work of active students that results in tangible community changes such as: composting, community meetings, education about culture, and more. These active community changes don’t just grow from kindness, they grow from hard work, communication, planning, and people overcoming differences such as race, gender, or culture. Rachel’s community changes happened after she died, so why are we martyring a girl who did less than what our diverse student leaders already do at South? Once again, a media source has put another white kid on a pedestal for entertaining thoughts of kindness. Thoughts that many of us, regardless of who we are,  embrace regularly, and act upon with humility, and expect nothing in return. The message was very white centric. She was white, the high school she attended was largely white, the people she actually affected were white, and the suburb in which they all lived is rich and white. Is Rachel’s story and experiences really impact and resonate with the diverse student body at South if they can’t identify with it?

South’s diverse student body has recently been struggling with racial and cultural tensions. A lot of students feel like there has been a lack of cultural understanding and education in our community. Rachel’s Challenge tells students that if you’re really nice and you believe in your hopes and dreams that you can achieve anything and fix the social problems at school. These are not proper tools that students should use to help tackle and talk about the social issues in our school. Dialogue, education about others, and student motivated movements to alleviate tension and change our community are the tools South needs. An outside organization who doesn’t understand the social makeup of our school that creates naive pep-fests or has students make paper chains to symbolize bonding are short term band-aid solutions that aren’t going to make a lasting effect in the community. South needs to actually bond by sitting down and confronting the issues we are dealing with and work together to come up with long term solutions. Kindness will help, but kindness alone will not solve our problems.

If Rachel’s Challenge was truly effective and its message was truly heard after such a “powerful” assembly, why did South have a violent display of cultural tension a month after the program was introduced into our school? Shouldn’t their message of kindness have prevented the outbreak?

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3 Comments

3 Responses to “Rachel’s Challenge won’t solve our problems”

  1. annette on October 18th, 2017 7:08 pm

    i dont agree with this article at all.

  2. Vickie on September 21st, 2018 10:08 am

    I agree with this article. mass murder is done by psychotic people; just being nice to them will not keep them from being psychotic. All this assembly did to my daughter yesterday was make her even more fearful about her life and cause her to be even more afraid of her high school. It’s not going to keep a psychotic person from murdering people. So I think all it did was scare these kids a lot and dredge up a lot of emotion (as if teens need to be MORE emotional!) with no real outlet for this emotion.

  3. Craig Scott on November 21st, 2018 8:01 am

    Hi Lamia,

    My name is Craig Scott. I was a Columbine survivor, and Rachel was my sister. I wanted to do a quick search on any negative feedback on Rachel’s Challenge to see where it may need improvement in other people’s eyes. I helped build the organization on and off for 15 years. I agree with you that no program can solve all the problems. And yes most, but not all people in the program are white, but not exclusively. My friend Isaiah, who was one of the few black students at our school, was killed next to me and the first challenge given in the presentation is to eliminate prejudice – to not pre-judge people that you don’t really know. The idea of the program and my sister’s story is to inspire people, but as you said it cannot fix all of a school’s problems.. Rachel was not a saint. And she shouldn’t be on a grand pedestal. And you’re right – she was a kind hearted teenager, but she didn’t accomplish a great feat in her short life. The stories we share are small things that she did for others that started a large chain reaction of kindness. Anyways, there’s a lot I agree with you on – that it takes more than just being kind, but it takes work to see real change happen. I have my own program now called Value Up – value-up.org, because I wanted to see some changes myself within Rachel’s Challenge and saw to do that I had to do something on my own. But I am very proud of my father and the team there. They have good hearts and they work hard to try and make a positive impact through this organization.

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Rachel’s Challenge won’t solve our problems