Student-run organization pushes for equity in the San Mateo District


@smuhsdequity on Instagram

A post from SMUHSD Equity Instagram on Oct. 22 regarding a past teach-in with the District that was held on Nov. 17.

Julianna Oliver, Senior Reporter

San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) Equity is a student-run group organized by students of color along with allies who are pushing for more diverse lessons to be taught in SMUHSD schools. Their main outlet is their Instagram account on which they post about upcoming events they will be taking part in, slides with information about pressing topics, as well as what their group hopes to accomplish and what they have already done. 

The group advocates for the eradication of casual racism, which is a term used to represent racist phrases and actions used in passing. Examples of casual racism include saying things such as, “You don’t look Asian,” or something as seemingly small as actions like trying to touch a person of color’s hair. Trying to touch a person of color’s hair gives them unwanted attention to something that is normal to them. SMUHSD Equity hopes to see more change when schools are faced with racism in any form and the implementation of more diverse lessons in schools’ curricula. 


The four leaders of the group come from different schools in the district and they share the leadership role equally.  

The group has worked with SMUHSD to lead a teach-in and educate staff about instances such as casual racism and the benefits of diverse lessons in school curriculums. They have also worked to teach SMUHSD staff about starting conversations about these pressing issues and more.  


“We are a band of brothers and sisters and collectively . . . I want no recognition that doesn’t matter to me, it’s working hard and combating systemic and institutional racism,” Badri Viswanathan, a freshman at Hillsdale said.


Gamze Akildiz is another leader in the group. She is a senior from Burlingame who is ecstatic to have an outlet where she can advocate alongside others who feel the same as her on pressing topics. 

“My passion fueled from personal experience because I’ve gone through a lot. Whether it’s in the streets or in the classroom,” Akildiz said. “So when I found out there was a group of students who wanted to make a change, it made me want to be a part of that,”


Akildiz claims to have experienced racism from staff and students, prompting her to make a change in the reactions of staff when observing students dealing with racism. 

“I definitely think that we need to start separating more time for conversations about race and racism. I feel like we need to change our curriculum   because it really has brainwashed a lot of students about those topics,” Akildiz said.


Sophia Heath, a student at Hillsdale and the third leader of SMUHSD Equity, believes that the topic of racism as well as the implementation of different cultures should be put into every class taught.


“I don’t like what [Ethnic Studies] suggests, like we should only be learning about racism in that class and not other classes which is ridiculous because it’s such an intersectional topic,” Heath said.


Angelia Dayag, a student at the College of San Mateo’s Middle College, is the fourth leader of the team. 


“For the past twelve or thirteen years of education, I’ve never learned about my own people and my own culture — I’m still learning about my own history which would be great to learn in class.” 


The four leaders unanimously stated they have not heard any backlash from the account itself; only support and appreciation. Annie Miller, a history teacher at Burlingame, is overjoyed to hear that there is a team of students fighting with a cause.

“I think it’s amazing that students are pushing to learn more and I love it. It makes me feel like what we do matters because sometimes I don’t always feel like that. It makes me overjoyed that students are interested — and that they want to be a part of the conversation,” Miller said.


The SMUHSD Equity team is still looking for members to join in the conversation. They are also working with the school board by joining meetings and talking to the SMUHSD superintendent about work needing to be done in the district as a whole.