Why Did I Speak out against the Wellness Week Photos?

Writer’s Note: This blogpost is an addendum to “Beyond the Surface Level“, the article I wrote in response to the Wellness Week photos. It is vital for me to give a thank-you to everyone who read the post, as your support helped me achieve an improved sense of wellbeing and confidence.- Naima

Why Did You Write about the Wellness Week Photos?

To every parent, student, teacher, and member of the Hayfield community. Thank you so much for your support. I need to express my overwhelming gratitude to those who supported me for publishing “Beyond the Surface Level.” I love coming in to school and receiving uplifting comments, such as, “Great blogpost,” and, “I love the way you advocate for your beliefs.” But I am not writing this post to emphasize the divided arguments that the Wellness Week photos resulted in. I wrote “Beyond the Surface Level” as a representation of the entire Hayfield community. In this post, I will explain why it was absolutely crucial for me to write about the photos. And the emphasis on this matter will place more weight on the gratitude I have for my supporters.

As a freshman, I struggled with social anxiety because I feared being criticized for the way I expressed myself through words, dress, and emotion. I am so thankful to have overcome this difficulty, as I often felt restricted by my fears. Despite this accomplishment, I have been struggling with anxiety lately, but I have been able to understand this emotion better than I did when I was 14-years-old. Currently, I am enrolled in two of Mr. Finneman’s classes, Advanced Information Systems and Web Page Development. And I have only just learned the trigger of my anxiety, hindrances on my freedom of expression.

After the Wellness Week photos were removed, Mr. Finneman argued against the administrative decision and expressed disagreement toward Alexis Beard’s article (which condemned the promotion of the photos). Whether you agree with the removal of the pictures or not, teachers should ensure that their students do not feel alienated because of controversial discussion. Because this issue sharpened a divide in the student body, I often felt afraid to defend my ideas. I wasn’t comfortable arguing against sexual objectification with those who will never have to fear being objectified themselves. This level of discomfort to simply express my thoughts led to unprecedented levels of anxiety, as I often spent more classes reminding myself to breathe than doing classwork. But in the school where Mr. Tremaine strived to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, we need to ensure that our actions don’t hinder others from expressing themselves. Teachers and other adults don’t discuss politics or religion in the classroom because it would only create divides in the school community. In the same way, the Wellness Week photos led to such a great level of controversy that those who argued against them were afraid of being ridiculed for their beliefs.

There is a stark irony in this issue. An approach that a staff member took to promote wellness only led to the decline of my mental health, so much so that I had to leave class several times to cry until I couldn’t anymore. Simply put, any hindrances on my freedom of expression led to an oppressive level of discomfort.

Ever since I published “Beyond the Surface Level”, my anxiety diminished because the doors to free expression were reopened. Countless members of our community reminded me that it is vital to have a voice, regardless of whether our opinions are popular or not. I want to let you know that I will be happy to befriend anyone who does not agree with my beliefs on any issue. And I will respect your point-of-view because I notice how detrimental it is to fear being the subject of backlash. Hayfield Secondary has taught us not to criticize each other if our beliefs don’t align. Rather, we honor diverse perspectives and reevaluate our own if needed. We are a melting pot of countless cultural identities, religious faiths, and intellectual thoughts. We must promote free speech, whether our ideas are popular or not.

Regardless of whether you agree with the posting of the Wellness Week photos, we can all say that we should never place unreasonable restraints on self-expression. We can all agree that no student should ever feel isolated. No student should ever have to spend a school day crying in a classroom because she does not feel comfortable to simply express herself. No student should ever have to end the week thankful that she does not have to return to school the next day.

I genuinely respect your beliefs because free expression is at the core of a healthy society. And we must do all that we can to ingrain this value as a part of our school community. By doing so, we will feel comfortable to discuss a plethora of subjects, controversial or not.

To every friend, teacher, and member of the Hayfield community. Because of your support, I felt comfortable returning to Room 1349. Because of your support, I found the strength to advocate for my beliefs. Because of your uplifting words, I learned what it took to alleviate the emotional pain that my anxiety often produced. I am a healthier young adult today because of all of your kinds words. “Hey, Naima, great blogpost.” “Thank you for voicing your opinion.” “You’re a brilliant writer.” “I was really impressed with your blog.” Every one of these compliments helped me realize how crucial it is that we never repress our ideas in a free society. And I wish that you will make a conscious effort to promote this American value. Thank you so much for reading, and I look forward to better personal health.

Sincerely,

Naima Sikandar

Graduating Senior and GMU Class of 2020


Postscript: If you wish to contact me for further discussion or questions regarding this issue, you may DM me on Twitter or Instagram @Neemzandchomps.

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