Runners-Up From Our 9th Annual Student Editorial Contest – The New York Times

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Dress codes, book bans, bike racks and social media activism. Teenagers tackle these issues and more in these 18 runners-up essays.

Here are the 18 runners-up in our Ninth Annual Student Editorial Contest. They join 11 winners and 53 honorable mentions as our favorite essays of the 16,664 we received this year.

Have a look at the issues these young people raise as well as the inventive ideas they have for addressing them. When you’re done, you can find more winning essays from students in this column.

In alphabetical order, by the writer’s last name.

“Learning With Mother Tongues Helps Us Find Home”
By Anika Ajgaonkar, age 15, Biotechnology High School, Freehold, N.J.

In a primary school in Andhra Pradesh, India, two children roamed the halls together with boards hanging from their necks. Other students stared at the passing “criminals,” their heads hung low. The crime? Speaking their mother tongue, Telugu, instead of the convent school’s mandatory English. Each of their boards read, “I never speak Telugu.”

Inside Indian English-language schools, dubbed “English medium,” reprimand for speaking one’s native language is nothing new. According to The Times of India, an increasing 26 percent of Indian school children attend English-medium schools. They are drilled to speak only English and rebuked for slipping back into their vernacular. But this system, marred with vestiges of colonialism, instills inferiority and shame in students for expressing themselves with a core part of their identity.

During a call with a cousin in India, I witnessed this mentality firsthand. As we chatted in Marathi, he noted how formal my vocabulary was compared to his English-peppered speech. Later, as a Marathi word eluded me, I requested his help in translation. But he wore a blank look. “Why bother?” he responded. “It sounds better in English, anyway.”

While I studied Marathi for years surrounded by the threat of English monolingualism, my cousin preferred and strived toward English living in India. Ultimately, our mother tongue was neglected no matter where we lived.

Similar issues plague Ugandan schools. The African state, home to 42 Indigenous languages, mandates English education for all students. While English is idolized as a scholarly language, mother tongues are relegated to personal use, so students develop a more enhanced academic vocabulary in English. This deepens the notion that English is a language of erudition compared to native languages. During the Ugandan Covid-19 lockdown, however, mother tongues made a resurgence in the academic domain with more students at home. Establishing mother tongues in schools breaks classist associations regarding education and language.

However, this English obsession is not without reason. According to a 2013 report, individuals who speak English fluently earn 34 percent more than those who cannot. English is essential in today’s globalized work force, but language acquisition should be accumulative, not subtractive. Research shows that high mother tongue proficiency makes learning a second language easier and results in better academic performance. Rather than hinder children’s ability to learn English later, it establishes a lifelong linguistic and cultural foundation for them.

As more people turn to English, it is our responsibility to keep our mother tongues alive and teach them to future generations. With them, we pass down our culture, traditions, and history, which increasing cultural homogenization threatens to rob them of. So embrace multilingualism, whether that means returning to a childhood language or learning your parents’ native tongue. If we don’t, who will?

Works Cited

40% Don’t Access Education in a Language They Understand.” UNESCO, 19 Feb. 2016.

Azam, Mehtabul, et al. “The Returns to English-Language Skills in India.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, vol. 61, no. 2, Jan. 2013, pp. 335–67.

Ball, Jessica. “Children Learn Better in Their Mother Tongue.” Global Partnership for Education, 21 Feb. 2014.

Daniyal, Shoaib. “Why Is India Obsessed With English-Medium Education – When It Goes Against Scientific Consensus?” Scroll.In, 6 Aug. 2020.

Hardach, Sophie. “In Quarantine, Kids Pick up Parents’ Mother Tongues.” The New York Times, 10 Sept. 2020.

Janyala, Sreenivas. “State Song Made Compulsory in Andhra Schools.” The Indian Express, 31 October 2009.

Linguistic Genocide.” Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, 28 Mar. 2022.

Mody, Anjali. “India’s Obsession with English Is Depriving Many Children of a Real Education.” Quartz India, Quartz, 3 Sept. 2015.

Müller, Anne, et al. “The Mother-Tongue Dilemma.” Education Today, no. 6, 2003, pp. 4–7. UNESDOC.

Nagarajan, Rema. “26% of schoolkids in English medium; nearly 60% in Delhi | India News.” Times of India, 3 July 2021.

“Madagascar: The Country”
By Soa Andriamananjara, age 15, Holton Arms School, Bethesda, Md.

To the average American, “Madagascar is an amusing, animated film that tells the tale of four New York zoo animals who stumble onto the African island, Madagascar. For all the entertainment the film provides, “Madagascar fails to bring awareness to its namesake island. “Madagascar is a Western narrative that pushes the Malagasy jungle against the West’s cultural hub, New York City, emphasizing the idea that African countries lack civilization and modernity.

The movie’s depiction of the Malagasy people highlights this stereotype; the movie simply does not show any humans. The sole sign of humanity is a plane wreck in the middle of the island, which plays up the thought that only animals live there, even though Madagascar has a population of 22 million people.

The West thrives on its stereotypes of Madagascar. While the movie made $556 million, Madagascar has a foreign direct investment of $359 million. While the movie’s actors make millions of dollars, the Malagasy gross domestic product per capita is 596.35 USD. While Hollywood thrives, Madagascar is the fourth poorest country in the world. On top of Madagascar’s poor economy, climate change also impairs the country. Three years of drought and low rainfall exacerbate food insecurity and transform the lush island into a hot, brown dust bowl. Because of the famine, 3.5 million Malagasy people needed assistance from the World Food Programme. Just another hurdle to people already struggling.

Even with the movie’s popularity, America doesn’t even know the proper demonym to use for Madagascar. Take the sorbet company, Talenti. It labels its vanilla sorbet as “Madagascan Vanilla Bean.” “Madagascan.” Even though it’s Malagasy farmers providing 80 percent of the world’s vanilla.

I’m tired of hearing Americans mock my country and joke about “going to the middle of nowhere in Madagascar.” Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, is filled with beauty; royal castles and brick homes line the green hillsides of the city. Madagascar hosts wildlife like no other; 90 percent of its wildlife cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Nothing compares to the looming baobab trees spread under the orange skies of Morondava, the aquamarine sea near the coves of Nosy Be, or the citrusy aroma of the blooming ylang ylang trees.

I’m sick of hearing “Have you ever met King Julien? I like to move it, move it,” whenever I tell someone I’m from Madagascar. I’m appalled that I have to explain that Madagascar is a real country. I’m tired of a children’s cartoon dictating what Americans know of Malagasy culture. The West lives in its own bubble, and what we see outside the bubble is our choice. Madagascar is dying and experiencing the first climate-induced famine, but where are the moviemakers now?

Works Cited

Vyawahare, Malavika “Madagascar’s Vanishing Trees” Mongabay. 21 May 2021.

Westberg, Marcus “Madagascar: A Cornucopia of Beauty” The New York Times. 7 May 2020.

Steavenson, Wendell “PHOTOS: Vanilla Boom Is Making People Crazy Rich — And Jittery — In Madagascar” NPR. 15 Sep 2019.

Box Office History for Madagascar Movies” The Numbers.

Madagascar” 2022 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation.

Madagascar GDP Per Capita” Trading Economics.

Poorest Countries in the World 2022” World Population Review.

Madagascar: Severe drought could spur world’s first climate change famine” United Nations. 21 Oct. 2021

Kouame, Koffi “Madagascar: Glimpse of hope amidst severe droughts” United Nations. 23 Feb. 2022

Katanich, Doloresz “How climate change is turning once green Madagascar into a desert” 20 March 2022

Zhong, Raymond “‘So Many Dimensions’: A Drought Study Underlines the Complexity of Climate” The New York Times 1 Dec. 2021

“It Is High Time We Give 16-Year-Olds the Vote”
By Sydney Black, Byram Hills High School, Armonk, N.Y.

At 15, Greta Thunberg stood outside of the Swedish Parliament with the “School Strike for Climate” sign that would reinvigorate the youth climate movement. When Malala Yousafzai was 15, she was shot in the head and began her Nobel Prize winning fight for girls’ education. And when David Hogg was 17, he cocreated the #NeverAgain movement to fight against gun violence.

In an era in which teenagers are increasingly driving advocacy on key issues, there is a clear case to lower the voting age to 16. A majority of Americans, 81 percent, however, believe the American voting age should stay the same. These people often dismiss teenagers as “immature.” But we have the maturity to drive and work without a limit on our hours? 16-year-olds can act like responsible citizens, but we can’t vote like responsible citizens.

For some, such as Jennifer C. Braceras, at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, it is clear: teenagers “don’t have enough skin in the game.” It’s not just our skin in the game but our entire lives. Our safety in school is put at risk by politicians who have not been in schools for forty years. Our planet has been endangered by the people who won’t live to see its demise. We are the ones who will have to live with the consequences, and the vote is one way to change them.

Time and time again, demeaning arguments, casting doubt on intelligence or maturity, have been used to disenfranchise some of America’s most engaged citizens. It wasn’t until 1870, when the 15th amendment was ratified, that Black men got the vote. And it was only in 1920 that women could vote.

And time and time again, when given the ability to vote, newly enfranchised people have shown up to the polls in historic numbers. Take Takoma Park, for example. When the Maryland suburb extended voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in 2013, voter turnout doubled and the teenagers showed up at higher proportions than the general population.

It may be easy to see this as an isolated example, but in the dozen countries that have given 16-year-olds the right to vote, it has become clear that when people begin voting earlier they develop a lifelong habit. A habit to further the social activism that teenagers have shown in issues ranging from climate change to equitable education to school shootings. Through social media, teenagers are becoming leading the discussions. Voting will only extend this practice.

As the 2024 election approaches, it is high time we give a voice and a vote to 16- and 17- year olds who have become meaningful advocates for political change at the backbone of our society.

Works Cited

Astor, Maggie. “16-Year-Olds Want a Vote. Fifty Years Ago, so Did 18-Year-Olds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 May 2019.

The Evolution of Voting Rights in America.” The National Constitution Center.

Lower the Voting Age for Local Elections.” FairVote.

Lowering the Voting Age for Local Elections.” Vote16 USA.

Wang, Philip. “Poll: Americans Overwhelmingly Reject Lowering Voting Age to 16.” The Hill, 14 May 2020.

“The Silent Sobs of Asian-Americans”
By Srikruthi Godavarthi, age 16, Olentangy High School, Lewis Center, Ohio

Silent sobs are the only form of crying I’ve known. “No crying on Saturday,” “no crying at night,” the list goes on. For my immigrant parents who associate crying with death, crying is a sin. Yet for me, crying is an art. Art that expresses the depths of emotions our words couldn’t. Art that conveys the thoughts we couldn’t speak. Art that makes us who we are — human.

Yet, something so human has been stigmatized in the Asian American community for decades. While crying may have several benefits, allowing us to de-stress and boosting our immune system, it continues to be labeled weak, powerless, childish, serving as a symbol for how the Asian American community treats mental health. Mental health issues are constantly disregarded, and today, where mental health has become an important topic in the West, Asian Americans are stuck between societal and cultural values. Mental health continues to remain an insecurity in Asian American households that prevents the community from advancing.

Asian American students face a culture crisis. They learn in schools to prioritize mental health and to reach out for help; however, these values are not the ones accepted in our homes. As the American Psychological Association reports, Asian Americans are three times less likely to reach out for professional help compared to whites, the difference made evident as only 8.6 percent of Asian Americans sought professional help compared to the 18 percent of the general population nationwide. Asian American students want to reach out for help, but they know they will be referred back to their parents, who dismiss their pleas for help to avoid labels, imperfections, and save their reputation, a trend that has been passed down through generations as stated by researchers from the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center.

The endless cycle of ignoring our mental health will continue as long as our parents continue to remain uneducated and unaccepting about the subject. While continuing to educate students about mental health, it’s imperative that communities all across the United States help parents understand the true meaning of mental health and why it is important.

I shouldn’t have to silently sob in the bathroom. I have the right to cry and express my emotions, but as someone who has been taught that mental health should be ignored, it’s hard to prioritize it. And while it may be hard for our parents, the integration of mental health education will play a vital role in truly creating generational change. We advocate change, but change must start with educating the community about the true epidemic several Asian American teens face today. Change starts with us. The stigma behind mental health ends with us.

Works Cited

Kramer, Elizabeth J et al. “Cultural factors influencing the mental health of Asian Americans.” The Western Journal of Medicine Vol. 176,4 (2002): 227-31.

Morris, Wesley. “Crying: The Power of a Good Cry.” New York Times, 8 Feb. 2022. Accessed 18 Mar. 2022.

Nakai, Nomie. “Have You Considered the Benefits of Crying?” New York Times, New York Times, 28 July 2020. Accessed 18 Mar. 2022.

Nishi, Koko. “Mental Health Among Asian-Americans.” American Psychological Association, 2012. Accessed 18 Mar. 2022.

“Rape Culture Dressed Up As Protection”
By Isabella Heilig, age 16, Cape Hatteras Secondary School, Buxton, N.C.

“Izzy, the vice principal needs you to go to her office for something.”

My band teacher didn’t seem to know what was going on, but I did. It was the second time that week I’d been pulled out of class, called into her office, and admonished for the inappropriateness of my clothing. According to her, my outfit was violating the school dress code and was “distracting to male students and teachers.”

Unfortunately, this is a common experience for many teenage girls across the country. Dress codes have been implemented in schools for years, and administrators often use the justification that clothes revealing a girl’s cleavage, shoulders, or midriff are “distracting” and “inappropriate.” But such excuses are actually promoting the sexualization of minors, and are unfair to female students.

As one student from Central Washington University pointed out in an article for their school’s newspaper, The Observer, the “language” of dress codes is directed toward females. Dress codes generally prohibit clothing revealing one’s chest, shoulders and midriff, often regulating specific articles such as tank tops, skirts and shorts — clothing that boys don’t typically wear. This teaches girls that their bodies are inherently “provocative” and therefore need to be hidden. This is apparently not the message we send to men. As a prime example of this, The New York Times ran a piece about a Florida high school that digitally altered yearbook photos of more than 80 female students to cover their chests because they were deemed “inappropriate” and “immodest” by school dress code standards. None of the boys had their yearbook photos altered — not even the swim team, who posed in their Speedos with no shirts. The clear message here is that girls’ bodies are inherently sexual and boys’ bodies are not. According to Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, policies like these effectively perpetuate rape culture because they “[teach] our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualised, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them.”

Younger generations are increasingly rejecting the misogyny of dress codes, which they view as being rooted in outdated ideas of women’s bodies and their roles in society. Before the yearbook photo scandal in Florida, the boys also participated in protests, wearing short skirts, dresses and shorts that would have been deemed inappropriate for girls and received no punishment. Clearly, clothing didn’t distract them from their message. Such incidents raise the question of who, exactly, school dress codes protect. And if the answer is adults who harbor antiquated ideas of sex and gender, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider those policies.

Works Cited

Bates, Laura, and Everyday Sexism. “Everyday Sexism Project: Dress Codes and Rape Culture.” Time, 22 May 2015.

Cramer, Maria, and Michael Levenson. “Yearbook Photos of Girls Were Altered to Hide Their Chests.” The New York Times, 23 May 2021.

Jones, Sasha. “Do School Dress Codes Discriminate against Girls?” Education Week, Education Week, 15 Oct. 2021.

Kaminski, Kyle. “Is Your School Dress Code Biased against Girls? Probably.” City Pulse, City Pulse, 15 Sept. 2021.

What’s Fair and Unfair about Student Dress Codes?” Anti-Defamation League.

White, Katlyn. “6 Reasons Why I Hate Dress Codes.” The Observer, 21 April, 2021.

“Schools Need to Build More Bike Racks”
By Ruby Jewett, age 16, Jesuit High School, Portland, Ore.

I walk my bike over to the bike rack at my school and see that it’s full. At first glance, doesn’t it seem like my school is enthusiastic about sustainable and healthy commuting? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. My school’s bike parking consists of a single bike rack that can fit three bikes comfortably, maybe four. In a 1200-person school, that means that less than one percent of the student body has the opportunity to bike on any given day.

This is not unique to my school. In 2016-17, only one third of Seattle Public Schools had the minimum number of bike parking spaces required by the Seattle Municipal Code. Across the district, 1494 additional bike parking spaces were needed, which would mean a fifty percent increase in bike capacity.

Schools need to build more bike racks to encourage students to bike to school, a healthy and sustainable form of transportation. A study found an eleven to forty-eight percent increase in biking in cities that added cycling infrastructure compared to those that did not. The number of bikers also increased. Making bike racks available to students would encourage an increase in bike commuters by eliminating the stress of not having a bike parking spot.

Like many people my age, I feel the weight of living in a world where climate change is escalating to catastrophic proportions. Biking to school allows me to feel like I am doing something to protect our future. Even moderate increases in biking could save six to fourteen million tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as lower air and noise pollution.

Biking also gives me a chance to be outside and increase my health, including lowering anxiety and depression levels. Decreasing stress. Improving cardiovascular and respiratory function. Boosting immune function. Reducing risks associated with Covid-19. The health benefits of biking are so great that money spent on biking infrastructure was found to have been more than recouped by the lowered need for health care.

Students need the opportunity to take action toward improving their health and helping the environment. Overcoming the unnecessary hurdle of a lack of infrastructure would give us this chance. Our school leaders should recognize the health and environmental importance of biking, and put this knowledge into practice.

Works Cited

Hallisey, Karen. “Biking Your Way to Better Health.” Transportation, University of California Los Angeles, 11 May 2021.

How Riding a Bike Benefits the Environment.” Transportation, University of California Los Angeles, 13 May 2021.

Penney, Veronica. “If You Build It, They Will Bike: Pop-Up Lanes Increased Cycling During Pandemic.” The New York Times, 1 Apr. 2021.

School Bike Parking Inventory Analysis. Seattle Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School, Jan. 2018.

“A Real American Military Calls for All Americans”
By Zhi Feng Etan Kiang, age 14, Harvard-Westlake School, Los Angeles

“Out of respect for our soldiers and their families, we have disabled the comments.”

That’s Laura DeFrancisco, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army. She was trying to quell backlash over the Army’s latest recruitment effort, a series of animated films highlighting soldiers’ backstories. Surprisingly, the vociferous keyboard critics didn’t mind the use of cartoons to promote national security. Instead, they objected to who was being featured: an Afro-Latino recruit from Haiti, a female soldier raised on ballet and violin, another who is proud of her “two moms.”

The Army is trying to sell a more diverse image, and if YouTube is any gauge, many Americans are not buying.

In 2021 the Army released “The Calling,” six commercials featuring interviews with six soldiers. Three are women; only two are white. The campaign’s goal, to bolster waning enlistment by centering diversity, is commendable. But not everyone is applauding. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the commercials “woke and emasculated.” Fox News criticized one ad for including a “lesbian wedding.” Never mind that Army membership has been over 14 percent female since the 1990s, and the Supreme Court declared marriage a fundamental right for all citizens back in 2015.

When traditionalists bemoan social progress, they are not being righteous, but stubborn. The changes they malign have already happened. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s tacit policy of gay exclusion, ended in 2011. Since then, the Army has opened combat roles to women and formally accepted transgender members. Today’s American soldier looks different than he (or she, or they) looked in the past, whether Ted Cruz likes it or not.

We shouldn’t worry that too much “wokeness” means we are losing touch with our values. American culture is always changing, just as it did when women belatedly gained the right to vote, or when public schools were finally integrated. Embracing progress doesn’t prove the Army’s leaders have “lost their way.” It proves they understand you can’t find the way forward by looking back.

Millennials and Gen Z dominate the military’s coveted 17-to-40 age demographic, and we care about representation. We value programming that features different races, genders, and orientations. Yet as Whitney Terrell observes, many pro-U.S. narratives remain stuck in the past. “The leads in our war movies about Iraq and Afghanistan look exactly like the leads in our contemporary WWII films,” he says. “White, straight, cisgender men.”

America has always stood for much more than that. It’s time its military did the same. “The Calling” broadens the spectrum of who can see themselves in the Army’s ranks. It touts the soldier’s ethos of independence, valor, and service to proud citizens who have been historically underrepresented.

Don’t worry, patriots. The Army’s more American than ever.

Works Cited

Terell, Whitney. “An Army for Everyone.” The New York Times. 13 July 2016.

Britzky, Haley. “The Army disabled comments on new recruiting commercials amid criticism it’s too ‘woke’” Task and Purpose. 20 May 2021.

Keating, Dave. “Timeline: women in the US Army.” Army Technology. 31 May 2016.

“Back It Up Shakespeare — Skills-Based Learning Has Come to College.”
By Catherine Latimer, age 16, Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, Portland, Ore.

Let’s face it. Shakespeare’s not getting you a job. Neither is Austen, Dickens, or even Kafka. So why do we keep teaching college students the work of literary masters?

When faced with the prospects and outcomes of a liberal arts education, I, as well as many of my peers, feel a sense of unease, as if the safer route would be a career with a well-trodden path to the work force — a characteristic often prevalent in STEM fields due to their skills-based nature.

As such, the percentage of liberal arts degrees earned has drastically decreased in the last 10 years.

I’m not surprised.

It feels almost ridiculous when faced with the growing expense of a college degree. Why risk the cost of a liberal arts education when you can learn skills that will lead you directly to a job and a greater income later in life?

This issue calls our values into question. By placing capital at the forefront of our educational system, we foster the attitude that college is nothing more than a vocational institution rather than one designed to teach us to “read critically, write cogently and think broadly,” — abilities Princeton University believes are central to a liberal arts education and beneficial to any career.

As my disheartened liberal-arts-loving peers explain their “more pragmatic” college plans to me, I grieve the lifetimes of fulfillment they are placing in jeopardy as they value paychecks over passions. I mourn their joy of education as they reach for a chance to grasp the short-lived benefits of an ever-changing economy.

Even so, I don’t blame them. I too have entertained the idea of succumbing to the stability of an unfulfilling career because the pay alone is enticing and the job outlook is good.

However, students shouldn’t be forced to weigh these options because there are simply no benefits to an entirely skills-based education.

In fact, it is vital that those entering STEM careers shouldn’t only be exposed to the tangible learning methods commonly found in their fields. They must also learn the elusive communication skills that provide a basis for growth and lifelong learning, making the acquisition of job-specific skills easier.

To put it simply, right now we need both skills-based and liberal arts styles of education.

We need health care workers with the ability to communicate well and engineers who understand the influence of their work. We need artists with computer skills and writers with a knowledge of statistics.

We read the work of Shakespeare not to stumble over Old English, but to begin a process of introspection, critical thinking, and connection-building that lasts a lifetime. And it all starts with a liberal arts education.

Works Cited

Bruni, Frank. “The End of College as We Knew It?” The New York Times. 4 June 2020.

Employment in STEM Occupations.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 8 Sept. 2021.

Schmidt, Benjamin. “Should I Major in the Humanities?” The Atlantic. 23 Aug. 2018.

What Does Liberal Arts Mean?” Princeton University Admission. 19 Sept. 2016.

“I’m a Man Who Has Long Hair — So What?”
By Kit Man Simon Law, age 16, QSI International School of Shenzhen, China

I am a long-haired man.

Though history is peppered with long-haired men — from pony-tailed Confucian scholars in ancient China to long-maned hippies dancing to Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock — throughout the three years of growing out my hair, I’ve faced constant opposition, from opponents calling me a freak on the soccer field to my math teacher joking I was homosexual when I wore my favorite vintage Yohji Yamamoto skirt on the first day of school. In a global culture increasingly conscious of the many gender expressions, male stereotypes continue to dominate the way we perceive masculinity.

Bias and stereotypes impact us all.” Yet, while female gender stereotypes have undoubtedly held people back — documented widely in areas like the gender pay gap and unequal familial roles — the negative effects of male gender stereotypes are less discussed.

We socialize men to embody a traditional masculinity that discourages display of emotion. The effects on mental and physical health can be devastating. Recent studies show that this kind of stoicism leads men to be more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, engage in heavy drinking, and even commit suicide. Even when men do seek help, they are often misdiagnosed with results that appear less “insulting” to their masculine pride: substance abuse problems, for example, are often misdiagnosed as internalized disorders like depression. These socialized impositions extend to the workplace. A 2017 study reveals that when men cry at work, they are deemed less competent than women who cry, resulting in lower rates of positive feedback and chances of promotion. These harmful stereotypes begin at an alarmingly young age: more than one-third of boys think society expects them to be strong and tough — “be a man,” “suck it up.”

We have made tremendous progress in recognizing the diverse spectrum of gender expressions, yet we still often rigidly define masculinity, whether subconsciously or not. Admittedly, men have not been as marginalized throughout history, and women still face more discrimination and bias today. In order to confront these inequalities, however, we must interrogate male stereotypes with the same level of scrutiny that we do female stereotypes. Why is it acceptable to judge a man’s looks according to an outdated standard of toxic masculinity? Why is it OK to make fun of a man for acting “feminine”?

Men do not have to be loud, muscular, and short-haired in order to be men: this rigid definition of masculinity only contributes to a rigid definition of femininity, and vice versa. People, regardless of gender, will not be free until we interrogate all the biases embedded in our language and culture. It’s time for a new, modern definition of masculinity — one where all people feel comfortable expressing who they truly are.

Works Cited

Fortin, Jacey. “Traditional Masculinity Can Hurt Boys, Say New A.P.A. Guidelines.” The New York Times, 10 January 2019.

Gerdeman, Dina. “How Gender Stereotypes Kill a Woman’s Self-Confidence.” Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, 25 February 2019.

Mayer, David M. “How Men Get Penalized for Straying from Masculine Norms.” Harvard Business Review, 8 October 2018.

Zalis, Shelley. “The Future Of Masculinity: Overcoming Stereotypes.” Forbes, 22 January 2019.

By Fayte Le, age 16, Vista Ridge High School, Cedar Park, Texas

Leander ISD reaches 451℉! With a recent book-ban decision by the school board, my district outside Austin has received national attention for all the wrong reasons. This act of censorship signifies my district’s part in identity erasure, an attack on representation, and will lead to real harm for us, the students at the heart of the issue, without a voice in the issue.

In 2021, due to “community concerns,” LISD banned 11 books. Of those books, four are about people of color, eight center on female characters, and four center on LGBTQ+ stories. There’s a very clear message this sends: if you aren’t a cisgender, straight, white male your identity is invalid.

This censorship clearly exemplifies the concept of erasure, defined by The New York Times as a practice “that renders certain people and groups invisible,” applied to identity. By removing books representing marginalized students, the identities of those students are effectively removed from the classroom. Identity erasure isolates students from the carefully cultivated community educators seek to instill and fosters negative self-perceptions within those students. We aren’t the heroes of the story … we’re not even in the story.

Books hold power to change or perpetuate inequalities in our society as, according to modern research, stories contribute to children’s understanding of roles they and others can and cannot occupy. Exposure to different experiences fosters empathy, understanding, and growth; exposure to relatable experiences validates and empowers.

Throughout this process, discussion has been disproportionately dominated by parents, politicians, and community members at the extremes. Headlines regarding the book bans, too, focus almost entirely on every perspective but the one that matters most: students.

Students are the most qualified to speak to our experiences, so student exclusion has created an inaccurate — highly biased — conversation that harms who it’s meant to protect.

At the heart of the issue are students; who everyone, pro-ban or against, is ultimately fighting for. “For the children,” right? If that’s the case, let us speak. If you value our health, safety, happiness, and well-being, listen to us and let us see ourselves represented in the media we consume. Let us see real-world issues affecting us because, ultimately, that is what will prepare us to be in that world … to change it.

This isn’t just about books anymore, it never was. This is about our collective future and who belongs in it. We can’t fight fire with fire, we can only hope you feel the heat.

Works Cited

Birali Runesha, Hakizumwami, et al. “What We Teach about Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books.” University of Chicago: Becker Friedman Institute. 6 Oct. 2021.

Connolly, Colleen. “Anatomy of a Challenge: A Book Ban in Leander, Texas Presaged a Pattern of Challenges Nationwide.” School Library Journal. 1 Feb. 2022.

Harris, Elizabeth A., and Alexandra Alter. “Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.” The New York Times. 30 Jan. 2022

Lysaker, Judith & Sedberry, Tiffany. “Reading Difference: Picture Book Retellings as Contexts for Exploring Personal Meanings of Race and Culture.” Literacy, Wiley Feb. 2015.

Ortegon, Allyson. “Leander ISD Pulls 11 Books from Curriculum after Year-Long Review.” KUT Radio, Austin’s NPR Station. 3 Dec. 2021.

Pagan, Paige, and Marilisa Jiménez García. “As Schools Ban Books by Authors of Color, Young People Pay the Price.” Refinery. 10 Dec. 2021.

Ringel, Paul. “How Banning Books Marginalizes Children.” The Atlantic. 3 Oct. 2016.

Sehgal, Parul. “Fighting ‘Erasure’.” The New York Times. 2 Feb. 2016,

“Ethnic Aisles: Segregation Within Grocery Stores”
By Wendy Lu, age 17, Oakton High School, Vienna, Va.

For me, a trip to my local grocery store involves a distinct routine. I start with dairy products, moving my way to fresh produce, snacks, and lastly, frozen items. As an Asian American, I have banned myself from stepping into the aisle labeled “International Foods.” Filled with packages of powdered miso soup, boxed taco shells, canned curries, and about ten different flavor variations of instant ramen, these isolated shelves are always stocked with foods paying homage to particular cultures; yet, these items are ones you would seldom find in the kitchens of fluent cooks and individuals of Asian or Latin American descent. So … who are these aisles really made for?

According to the New York Times food reporter Priya Krishna, the ethnic aisle was popularized during postwar America in the 1940s when soldiers stationed in countries like Italy, Germany, and Japan wanted access to the same goods they had tasted overseas. However, as Krishna highlights, “while many of the European foods eventually migrated out of the [international] section, most of the foods from other parts remained.”

This severance of products is what David Chang, a Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur, attributes to the “invisible ceiling,” preventing “Chinese, Japanese, and Latino foods” from integrating throughout stores like their European counterparts have.

Consumers may contend that the distinction of the international shelves makes locating so-called “ethnic” foods easier. But how, then, were American shoppers able to adapt to the diaspora of Italian and German foods into other sections of markets?

For many people of color, seeing the dumping of foods within their culture into a singular shelf within an expansive American supermarket is nothing short of traumatizing. The ethnic aisle contains foods of every category — produce, beverages, condiments, spices — categories that, for American commodities, make up entire sections of the grocery store. Growing up in Northern Virginia, Chang recalls his frequent childhood encounters with the “global foods” aisles of two grocery stores his parents shopped at. To him, the aisles served as a constant “reminder […] that he was different from white America.” Ethnic aisles alienize foods from various cultures by physically displacing them from “conventional” shelves, exacerbating the omnipresent social disparity first-generation immigrants face when integrating into the country.

Ethnic aisles in grocery stores are long outdated, characterized as an “anachronism” by Krishna. These aisles — established almost 80 years ago — uphold traditional American values rooted in division, ultimately allowing segregation to fester in a subtle yet routine manner.

The American shopper has been ignorant for far too long. Help eradicate this segregation rampant within the United States — address letters to corporate representatives, demand amalgamation, and be cognizant of the ethnic aisle and its detrimental history.

Works Cited

Carman, Tim. “To David Chang, the ‘ethnic’ food aisle is racist. Others say it’s convenient.” The Washington Post, 30 Sep. 2019.

Krishna, Priya. “Why Do American Grocery Stores Still Have an Ethnic Aisle?” The New York Times, 10 Aug. 2021.

“The Epidemic of Performative Social Media Activism”
By Rachel Pakan, age 16, Hunter College High School, New York, N.Y.

The phrase “performative activism” was popularized during the 2020 George Floyd protests to criticize individuals communicating inconsequential statements of solidarity with the movement, especially through social media, to prove their own moral righteousness. The 11.3 million black squares posted to Instagram on Blackout Tuesday, for instance, generated such condemnation.

Unfortunately, this sort of activism did not end with the protests; as the child of Soviet immigrants with relatives in both Russia and Ukraine, I am dismayed at the amount of performative social media activism generated in response to the ongoing war.

At its core, performative activism is self-serving, prioritizing the demonstration of one’s own good will over the actual cause. Its impact is minimal at best; in fact, it is often counterproductive. A slew of blue-and-yellow flags flashing over users’ screens will do nothing to explain the war to them, just as a flood of black squares will not inform them about Black Lives Matter. When this so-called “activism” overwhelms a user’s screen, it obscures any genuine attempts at making an impact on the cause.

Defenders of such activism contest that while it may not produce direct change, it can still spread awareness on a major scale and put pressure on politicians. Making someone aware that an issue exists, however, does not convince them to care about it. Only those who understand the situation will be motivated to take action, and it is this concrete action that will pressure politicians to act.

Conversely, genuine advocacy serves to actively help the situation at hand. Well-researched informative posts, for instance, break down the origins of the situation and any recent developments so that people are compelled to take action. Meanwhile, petitions and trustworthy donation pages can influence anything from one refugee’s hospital visit to national legislation.

Of course, not everyone has the money to donate. Not everyone has the time to create lengthy posts. But despite what social media has conditioned us to believe, not everyone has to. The simple acts of spreading reliable information, sharing donation links, or refraining from flooding peers’ feeds with unexplained slogans are influential in themselves, because they allow those who are able to participate in major efforts to permeate people’s pages.

If you think #blacklivesmatter, then don’t post a black square. Sign a petition or donate to the cause, or simply allow others to do so by refraining from performative gestures of solidarity. If you #standwithukraine, then actually stand with Ukraine. Take the time to educate yourself. Listen to the thousands of Ukrainians pleading for help, not the influencers selling you pins with the Ukrainian flag on them. Regardless of what’s trending, make your social media activism count for more than just your ego.

Works Cited

Bursztynsky, Jessica, and Sarah Whitten. “Instagram Users Flood the App with Millions of Blackout Tuesday Posts.” CNBC. CNBC, June 2, 2020.

Mzezewa, Tariro. “Posting a Black Square, but Not Black Faces.” The New York Times. 20 June 2020.

“It’s Time to Lose the Obsolete Tradition of Classroom Animal Dissections”
by Sunghyun Park, age 16, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, N.H.

In fifth-grade biology class, I stood in front of a sliced fetal pig with a scalpel in my hand. I was overcome with a strong urge to vomit and I wondered, in such a technology-driven world, why were there unborn pigs on our tables when we could have easily learned the same amount of material on our computers lying only a few feet away from us?

According to PETA, 10 million animals representing over 170 species including cats, frogs, and pigs are killed for school and university dissections in the U.S. annually. There are numerous safer, more ethical non-animal alternatives that schools may adopt easily. Anatomy and physiology can be taught as effectively through advanced digital programs, 3-D virtual reality models, emerging augmented reality, and synthetic animals.

Animal dissections have not adapted to the technological advances which make 3-D simulations feasible. According to a 2005 Times article “An On-Screen Alternative to Hands-On Dissection,” “hundreds of schools” use software as an alternative to animal dissection, using apps such as “BioLab, Digital Frog, and DryLab.” Today, there are many apps such as “Froggipedia,” a frog anatomy program that not only allows students to perform a virtual dissection but also teaches about a frog’s life cycle. Synthetic animals were used for the first time at a high school in New Port Richey, Florida, in 2019. A Society for Humane Science literature review found that in 88 percent of studies, non-animal ways of learning were greater or equal learning tools to dissection. This is due to factors such as increased comfort in the knowledge that their dissections did not contribute to the suffering of real animals. Also, apps offering virtual dissections are an ideal and economical alternative. A single software program can function for years, while animals acquired for single-use are thrown away.

Replacing traditional dissections with virtual alternatives will make a positive impact on the environment. According to, approximately 99 percent of animals used for dissections are taken from their natural habitats, and there are more than 12 million animals dissected in the U.S. each year. This greatly disrupts the health and viability of local populations and impacts biodiversity negatively.

Students possess the capacity to make a great difference. Sit out during classroom dissections and convince your parents to write a letter to your teacher explaining your reasons for refusing to dissect animals. Email your teachers and principals about possible alternatives. Talk with others to inform them and organize protests with those who share the same views. Petition Congress for the creation of a policy that requires dissection alternatives. Continue to educate yourself and spread knowledge on the harm dissections bring to animals and humans.

Works Cited

Animal Dissection – Top 3 Pros and Cons.”

Animals Used in Education.” PETA, 9 Sept. 2021.

Dissection.” American Anti-Vivisection Society.

Phan, Karen. “Florida High School Becomes First to Dissect Synthetic Animals.” Los Angeles Times High School Insider, 30 Jan. 2020.

Dissection Alternatives.” Animal Welfare Institute.

Humane Education.” Animal Welfare Institute.

Bernstein, Fred. “An On-Screen Alternative to Hands-On Dissection.” The New York Times. 4 Oct. 2005.

“China’s After-School Tutoring Ban Offers No Reprieve From School Stress. Here’s What Beijing Should Do.”
By Zizhou Peng, age 18, St. George’s School, Middletown, R.I.

After Beijing banned after-school tutoring last summer, I was relieved. My friends in China no longer had to endure countless cram school classes like I had to before moving to the U.S. five years ago. What had once been a source of immense pressure and friction and built a Great Wall between my Chinese tiger mother and myself had suddenly disappeared.

But I quickly realized that banning for-profit tutoring companies would not provide relief for millions of my Chinese peers for one simple reason: the gaokao.

In hopes of capturing a spot at one of the nation’s top schools, middle and high school students in China feverishly prepare for the gaokao, or a series of college entrance exams. The grueling tests promise a future filled with exciting opportunities — or none at all. A Chinese saying vividly describes the gaokao as a stampede of “thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of horses across a single log bridge.” It’s absolutely frightening.

Indeed, the gaokao is such a highly efficient talent-screening system in China, home to the world’s largest population, that Beijing has little incentive to ditch it.

The best universities solely enroll students according to their gaokao performance. The job market finds it convenient to recruit employees based on the ranking of their alma mater, and even neighbors and friends refer to your gaokao scores ad nauseam. In the Middle Kingdom, the gaokao makes or breaks you.

The job market in China is especially Darwinian. Research has found that one’s chosen school significantly influences the entry-level salary of college graduates. The better the school, the higher the wage, with astonishing inequality between college and vocational graduates.

The tutoring ban could never stop the competitive pursuit of education and the better life it usually entails. Sadly, the ban will cause further stress, with anxious parents turning to the black market to find teachers. A service widely available has been wiped off the market. Your neighbors might even report you to the police for secretly taking private lessons.

But that won’t stop Chinese parents.

“My parents managed to hire a teacher at a bankrupt tutoring firm,” a friend in China confessed. “I start private tutoring lessons at home next week,” said another.

The status quo must change — that much is clear.

Suppose China wants to tackle the root of the problem. In that case, it must offer diverse forms of evaluation in schools, develop supportive educational systems for people over 18 and provide more employment options at different life stages.

The gaokao isn’t about to disappear, but that doesn’t mean it ought to dictate one’s trajectory in this world. Life is too meaningful and precious for that.

Works Cited

LaFraniere, Sharon. “China’s College Entry Test Is an Obsession.” The New York Times, 12 June 2009.

Li, Yanming, Kangyin Lu, and Kaiyuan Wang. “Inequality in the Initial Wage of College Graduates at the College-Level Perspective.” Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 13 (24), 14 Dec. 2021, pp. 1-15.

Stevenson, Alexandra, and Cao Li. “China Targets Costly Tutoring Classes. Parents Want to Save Them.” The New York Times, 30 July 2021.

Yan, Alice. “After Beijing’s ban on tutoring industry, Chinese parents turn to black market to find teachers.” South China Morning Post, 4 Oct. 2021.

“School or Services? Public Districts Need More Holidays.”
By Bea Reichman, age 17, Penfield High School, Penfield, N.Y.

“Beatrice, if you’re going to do your math homework, at least go to the back,” my irritated father whispers, pointing to some ancient folding chairs clustered in the back of the sanctuary. The Yom Kippur services are in full swing, and I listen to the Hebrew chants as I tiptoe through aisles, dodging stares. Yes, I am fasting. Yes, I should be praying on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. And yes, I am doing homework in services.

In Monroe Country, N.Y., where I live, only one in 18 public school districts close school for the Jewish high holidays. Meanwhile, nearly every district in the nation requires school off for Christmas and Easter. Noninclusive policies like these affect more than just Jewish students. No public districts in Monroe County close school for Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, or Diwali. This leaves many students with an impossible decision between attending school or observing their faith. Students who leave school end up playing catch up, overwhelmed with work. Students who choose to attend school feel guilty for not observing with their community.

Of course, many parents fear the repercussions of so many school-sanctioned holidays. For elementary students, taking days off could hinder their ability to develop a routine. Others argue that days off are unnecessary, given that their districts have few Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu students. But this pushback proves why taking holy days off is so necessary. Forcing non-Christians to choose between their studies and their religion encourages uniformity, where students have little exposure to other cultures. Most community members have no idea these holidays exist, let alone why they are celebrated. The understanding of other belief systems students gain from these days off would be far more beneficial than a day in school.

Moves to take religious holidays off have been successful in districts across the nation. In 2015, then New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha would be observed as school sanctioned holidays, bringing instant relief to the New York City Muslim community. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, explained, “When these holidays are recognized, it’s a sign that Muslims have a role in the political and social fabric of America.” Even the small act of a day off school has a huge impact. It sends a powerful message to our country’s minority communities: You are respected.

By sanctioning the holiest days for all belief systems as school holidays, public school districts would allow students of all faiths to observe without internal conflict and would foster an accepting school culture. Plus, districts would save poor congregations like mine from hearing obnoxious beeping calculators during their prayers of atonement.

Works Cited

Dvorak, Petula. “Not Every Student is Christian. So Why Don’t All School Districts Recognize That?” The Washington Post, 4 March 2021.

Grynbaum, Michael M and Otterman, Sharon. “New York City Adds 2 Muslim Holy Days to Public School Calendar.” The New York Times, 4 March 2015.

Medina, Jennifer. “It’s Back to School. Then Back to Vacation.” The New York Times, 7 September 2010.

“Natural Resource Robber Barons: The Case for Environmental Personhood”
By Shane Stesner, age 17, Regis High School, New York, N.Y.

In 2014, Duke Energy pleaded guilty to spilling 39,000 tons of coal ash into a North Carolina river. They paid 102 million dollars in fines, but not a single employee went to jail for the criminal negligence they had already confessed. Even worse? Duke did it again in 2018, when, according to The New York Times, floodwaters from the Cape Fear River engulfed a basin containing 2.1 million cubic yards of toxic ash.

The case of Duke Energy is actually a fortunate one; by and large, prosecution for environmental crime is extremely rare. The Crime Report, citing records from the Environmental Protection Agency, finds that just 0.5 percent of environmental law violations prompt criminal investigations. From there, the D.O.J. prosecutes just 24 to 63 percent of those cases. Without sufficient funding, the E.P.A. lacks the personnel to thoroughly investigate all incidents of environmental impropriety, allowing most crimes to continue unchecked.

In the uncommon case that it does open an investigation into environmental malfeasance, the E.P.A. generally pursues monetary penalties. However, even those have plummeted. The New York Times finds that the Trump administration pursued just 39 percent of what the Obama administration sought in punitive fines. Years of lax environmental policy in the U.S. have caused irreparable damage to our environment, and moreover, set a dangerous precedent that corporations can escape accountability for their crimes.

Indeed, this is the root of the environmental justice dilemma in America. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology explains that, generally, “corporations understand that they will often be allowed to continue with polluting … and that fines … are the likely enforcement response to environmental offending rather than criminal prosecution.” Of course, America’s multinational, uber-rich conglomerates can afford to pay fines, but can they afford to lose their C.E.O.s to jail time?

The remedy to America’s broken environmental justice system lies in a theory called environmental personhood, which grants legal personalities to rivers, mountains, and nature preserves, such that those who harm them must be prosecuted as if they had harmed another human. In 2019, Bangladesh proclaimed its rivers to have the same legal reputes as sentient entities and appointed a team of environmental prosecutors — the National River Conservation Commission — to defend them, imposing prison sentences against offenders.

A similar system is feasible in the U.S.; instead of relying on a single, overburdened government agency to prosecute all environmental crimes, the federal government ought to appoint groups of jurisdictional prosecutors to uphold environmental laws. While politicians may pledge to dampen carbon emissions and subsidize green tech companies, policies and promises will mean nothing insofar as it remains nearly impossible to enforce them.

Works Cited

Duke Energy Subsidiaries Plead Guilty and Sentenced to Pay $102 Million for Clean Water Act Crimes.” The United States Department of Justice, 14 May 2015.

Irfan, Umair. “How Trump’s EPA Is Letting Environmental Criminals off the Hook, in One Chart.” Vox, 27 Feb. 2019.

Kates, Graham. “Environmental Crime: The Prosecution Gap.” The Crime Report, 14 July 2014.

Lipton, Eric, and Danielle Ivory. “Under Trump, E.P.A. Has Slowed Actions against Polluters, and Put Limits on Enforcement Officers.” The New York Times, 10 Dec. 2017.

Nurse, Angus. “Contemporary Perspectives on Environmental Enforcement.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol. 66, no. 4, 2020, pp. 327–344.

“The Dan River Coal Ash Spill, One Year Later.” Southern Environmental Law Center, 3 Feb. 2015.

Thrush, Glenn, and Kendra Pierre-Louis. “Florence’s Floodwaters Breach Defenses at Duke Energy Plant, Sending Toxic Coal Ash into River.” The New York Times, 21 Sept. 2018.

Westerman, Ashley. “Should Rivers Have Same Legal Rights as Humans? A Growing Number of Voices Say Yes.” NPR, 3 Aug. 2019.

“Technology and the Shaping of News Consumption”
By Yael

When saying yes to phone news notifications, you are signing up to be an informed citizen. You are also agreeing to a mentally tolling journey.

As world news is blasted onto the digital landscape, our news consumption has shifted dramatically. With 24-hour news cycles and social media to amplify it, technology has created a fast-paced, addictive relationship with the news, one which must be mitigated by consumers to avert burnout and numbness.

Print newspaper subscriptions are declining. For most of us, reading the morning news is no longer linked to sipping hot coffee while selectively glancing through the morning paper.

Instead, our smartphone screens are the daily and incessant news routers of our time. Our phone screen lights up with heart-wrenching stories in the middle of meetings, classes, dinners and lectures. News is intricately woven into the fabric of our lives. The sound of a small ping is the conduit for unfathomable and brutal stories of traumatic events.

A few years ago, the thought of constant phone access to national and international news was unthinkable. Today, we grapple with the inevitable and threatening implications of our technological media advancements. With increased accessibility, we partake in valuable news content that keeps us constantly informed of new developments around the world. We are being bombarded with an impossible volume of stories, information, and human struggles that we cannot process without major health consequences.

According to Susanne Babbel, a trauma recovery psychiatrist, when one encounters trauma-related stress we go into “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” mode before healing. Yet, when we are constantly exposed to trauma, like the ones in news notifications, returning to a relaxed state of recovery is reduced and our healthy coping mechanisms diminish.

We need more time to digest the traumatic content in the news, which psychologically overwhelms us to the point of numbness. When we are numb, we lose our capacity for reflectiveness and self-awareness, ultimately challenging our ability to empathize with crisis stories and those who are suffering.

Yet, we don’t have to fall prey to this harmful cycle. We can stay informed while caring for ourselves. The news will keep its fast pace and technology will advance, but it is up to us to learn how to balance our information intake by turning screen time limits on and taking breaks from the news each day.

The collective indifference that our generation is experiencing toward the news gives us a glimpse into what desensitization may look like. We have to be smart consumers of this modernized news form so we can confront our world’s critical stories with compassion and empathy. If we can’t consume these headlines with humanity then how will we be inspired to fight?

Works Cited

Ember, Sydney. “New York Times Co. Reports Loss as Digital Subscriptions Grow.” New York Times, May 3, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2022.

Pattillo, Alexandra. “Too much bad news can make you sick.” CNN. Last modified June 1, 2018. Accessed April 12, 2022.

Mollica, Richard. “Numb from the news? Understanding why and what to do may help.” Harvard Health Publishing. Last modified march 18, 2021. Accessed April 12, 2022.

“Crying: It’s a Human Thing”
By Owen Yu, age 17, The Haverford School, Haverford, Pa.

Several weeks ago, in a sudden, long overdue release of pent-up emotions and teenage angst, I cried. This was the first time in months I “let” that happen. Despite growing up as a sensitive boy, I often repress my feelings, fearing I seem “soft” or “girly.” However, I was powerless when the academic stress of junior year, social expectations, and personal responsibilities finally overwhelmed me — then the tears began.

It is well documented that repressing emotions, the body’s biological distress signals, can lead to symptoms such as anxiety or depression. In addition to mental health issues, Time magazine has identified that physical problems such as heart disease, headaches, and autoimmune disorders result from ignoring emotional stress. Considering that men died by suicide 3.88 more times than women in 2020, it is essential for guys of all ages to both acknowledge and reconcile their feelings. Yet in light of this information, a significant portion of men (myself included) continue to ignore their emotions despite experiencing physical discomfort or mental anxiety.

So why is this the case?

I, like many other boys, grew up believing my identity as a male was tied to how tough I was. In a 2018 survey of 10- to 19-year-olds conducted by Plan International USA and PerryUndem and discussed by The New York Times, approximately one third of boys believed society expected them to hide their emotions when they felt sad or scared and to “be a man” and exhibit strength or toughness. These societal expectations narrow the definition of masculinity and force growing boys to fit a single image — the “real” man, a stereotypical tough guy persona — while also characterizing emotional expression as a weakness. Thus, when adolescent boys encounter emotional struggles, most would rather bury their feelings within themselves than communicate them to others. This process continues into adulthood.

However, emotions are neither a hindrance nor a sign of weakness; they are a biological necessity that regulates our mental and physical health. To be clear, mental fortitude isn’t a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be confused with concealing heavy feelings. According to psychoanalyst Hilary Jacobs Hendel, “When we are taught about the automatic nature of emotions and learn to identify and work with the core emotions beneath our anxiety, we feel and function better.” Boys should feel comfortable communicating their thoughts during stressful times, and achieving this is simple: young boys need to be taught that emotional expression is natural and alright. We need to create a comforting environment for sharing feelings.

It is time we remove the stigma surrounding male emotions. To my fellow guys, don’t be afraid to let those healthy tears flow. In the end, we are all human.

Works Cited

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. s.v. “Suicide Statistics.”

Hendel, Hilary Jacobs. “Ignoring Your Emotions Is Bad for Your Health. Here’s What to Do About It.” TIME. 27 Feb. 2018.

Reiner, Andrew. “Boy Talk: Breaking Masculine Stereotypes.” The New York Times. 23 Oct. 2018.

Whippman, Ruth. “What We Are Not Teaching Boys About Being Human.” The New York Times. 6 Aug. 2021.

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