Cultural clubs at NNHS provide a community for students

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Photo by Elissa Eaton

Faith Kwong and Elissa Eaton

When he was a freshman, now-senior Dawood Siddiqui moved from Dubai to Naperville. Not only did he have to adapt to a new school, he also needed to adjust to an entirely different country and its cultural norms. That change can be extremely intimidating — for Siddiqui, though, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Naperville North High School made the transition much easier. Along with MSA, Naperville North hosts a multitude of clubs encompassing cultures from around the world for students of various races, ethnicities and religions. 

Despite its majority-white student body, Naperville North is much more diverse now than it used to be. In its 50 years, a lot has changed. Sanjay Shah, an alumnus from the Class of 1986, talked about his experiences at North being a person of color. 

How was the diversity at North different from now? 

“It was not at all diverse at the time. We had only about three to five people of each of these ethnic backgrounds in our class: Chinese, Indian, Hispanic and Black. It’s most certainly different now. Naperville North and other schools in this area are so diverse.”

Was it challenging to be a person of color in 1980s Naperville?

“I think it was challenging to be non-white in both Washington Jr. High and North. There were no anti-bullying rules. Fortunately, I was strong within and understood that people’s ignorance has nothing to do with me.”

Were there any cultural clubs at North when you were in high school?

“I don’t recall there being any cultural clubs. It would’ve been great if there were clubs like that, but also if there was generally a climate of appreciation for people from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds.”

 

With a return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year, more than 11 cultural clubs have resumed their meetings at North. While cultural clubs can serve as a community, connecting people of the same culture, they can also be a place for individuals to explore, coming together to enhance their understanding of other ethnicities, languages, and cultural practices. By attending clubs that represent a cultural identity a student doesn’t identify with, they can build their cultural intelligence, which is otherwise defined as their ability to work and relate with individuals from other communities. 

Here are the words of student leaders and members of different cultural clubs at North:

What is the intention of your club? 

Harrison Boelke (senior: German club) “The intention of the German club is to educate and share the German culture and language, so we do activities with German food and German crafts, and just have a good time.” 

Dawood Siddiqui (senior: Muslim Student Association) “In MSA, we want to be more connected to the school and the neighborhoods of the Naperville community in general, and we wanted to explain what Islam is while we’re at it.”

Cameron Clark (senior: Filipino club) “With food, presentations and activities, we want to inform others and spread our Filipino culture in a fun and inviting manner.” 

Esther Song (senior: Asian Student Association) “Our intention of ASA was to create a space where Asian students and those interested in Asian culture could share their experiences, relate with other members and learn about different cultures. We also wanted to create a community where members can support each other.” 

Christina Gu (senior: American Sign Language club) “The intention of our club is to teach students at Naperville North about deaf culture and to learn the language.” 

 

Should students who aren’t a part of the culture join the club?

Rachel Wegner (sophomore: Indian Student Association) “I think that a lot of people would benefit from [joining a cultural club that they are not a part of] and it would definitely give good life skills, such as learning about other cultures, learning to be respectful, integrating some parts of their history into yours and starting to feel like you can really connect with another culture.” 

Song “We think it’s a good idea to include students who aren’t a part of the culture because one of the goals of our club is to highlight the beauty and diversity of Asia. Lots of people don’t realize that Asia is a continent with 48 countries, each with their own culture, so we want to change their perception that all Asian culture is a monolith.”

Raniya Hussain (junior: Muslim Student Association) “We want to broaden our club to not just Muslims but people of any race, ethnicity, or religion. They can come learn more about who we are and if they can feel welcomed in different areas.”

Gu “As of right now, there are no members who are part of the deaf community. I’d encourage anyone of any interest level to join the club, as I think we can all learn a little more about the language and culture.” 

 

How has joining your cultural club benefited you? How can learning about different cultures benefit others? 

Hussain “When I moved here from Wisconsin and started wearing hijab, my start was a bit bumpy with how people were treating me. When I came to Naperville North and came to MSA, it made me feel more welcome and it helped me grow my own personal confidence and helped me to become who I am today.” 

Siddiqui “I wasn’t really too keen on it when I first went in, but everyone was really warm-hearted, and the activities we did were fun. I started attending from that day onward and that connected me to more people and really helped me throughout my high school life.”

Clark “Education in other cultures is so essential because it helps a person become well informed and cultured so they can socialize in multiple situations to where they can feel comfortable.”

Boelke “Even myself, I don’t know that much about German culture. It’s just amazing to see another culture and enjoy the food and crafts and to immerse yourself in as many cultures as you can.”

Shah “It’s very enriching to learn about other cultures and ways of life. I believe it helps us to see that we are part of a diverse planet and opens our minds and thinking.”

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