Farewell, St. Luke’s: A Reflection on the 4-Year Experience of the “Woke” Black Girl On the Hilltop

Tasia Courts '20, DLC Liaison

My name is Tasia Courts, and I am a graduating St. Luke’s senior. When I thought of what to write for this article, a number of ideas came to mind, but the one that I kept coming back to was a reflection on my time at St. Luke’s. In this piece, I hope to shine a light on certain flaws in the daily and institutional functions of SLS, but I also want to show my gratitude and deep appreciation for the opportunities and lessons that I have taken from St. Luke’s. I would characterize my experience over the past four years on the Hilltop as trying and triumphant because I overcame many obstacles while managing to juggle extremely busy academic, extracurricular, and social lives.

First, I will discuss the trying. There were far too many times in which I was backed into a corner or pushed onto a soapbox. In many instances, I have been the only black student in a classroom. I often had to advocate for myself in classroom settings, especially regarding matters of race and learning gaps. This has put me in a few situations in which I felt obligated to speak on behalf of black people or point out how the teacher could have better supported me. These instances did not happen all the time, but they were frequent enough that I was constantly feeling anxious that I would have to become a social justice warrior at any given moment. 

Furthermore, I live in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the demographics contrast starkly with those represented in New Canaan and the surrounding towns. Since freshman year, I have taken the bus to school, so I have had to wake up around 5:30 am to get on the bus at Sacred Heart University for the hour-and-fifteen-minute-long bus ride. In the mornings, especially, it was important to keep my mind occupied on the bus because that made the long ride feel much shorter. Some of my different options were to sleep, scroll through various social media platforms, chat with friends, and my personal favorite, look out the window. I loved doing what I called “house watching,” the practice of looking at different houses throughout Fairfield County and using different aspects of these beautiful, elegant homes to create my dream house. This was an important practice that all of the bus riders took part in because it inspired us to achieve our goals of having the wealth of St. Luke’s families. 

During my high school years, my home life felt like a never-ending rollercoaster. There was always something going on outside the comfort of my lavender bedroom walls. My mother and stepfather divorced after many failed attempts of blending families, my father was released from jail after serving four years of a six-year sentence, my mother mourned the loss of her grandmother and dealt with nearly lifelong family conflicts, my family moved to a new house during my junior year, and a few other smaller incidents developed as well. While I was mostly staying afloat academically, I was often distracted by what was going on behind the scenes. I had to keep my school and home lives separate because that was, somehow, the best way for me to manage all of my stressors. It made me feel more in control of everything going on around me to leave my home issues at home, but it felt as though my overwhelming school life took over everything else.

I was diagnosed with ADHD a few months into my junior year after I began struggling to keep up with my school work. I had a serious lack of structure and routine, but I did not know that there were resources to tap into. At first, I didn’t know that I was displaying common symptoms of ADHD, like my excessive tardiness or constantly losing my belongings. I just thought that these were personality traits or bad habits, but I learned that they were indicators of something greater that I had going on. After the diagnosis, I had an academic plan put in place that primarily allowed me to receive extra time on school assessments and preferential seating in the classroom. These resources made a world of a difference for me, and I felt a bit more in control of my education. 

Since my freshman year, I have been hearing about a book that I still have yet to read. It is Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All The Black Kid Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? The title of this book captures a major aspect of my high school experience, the Commons. This is the epicenter of black culture at St. Luke’s, and it is our safe haven from the rest of the school. The black community at SLS depended on each other and our faculty support system to keep up with our studies and the world around us. This support system was especially crucial during a point in junior year when a majority of the black student community became constantly involved in SLS’s diversity work with the administration. We felt as though faculty did not respond sufficiently to ignorant, racially insensitive behavior from some students, and we made that clear to the authority figures of the school. As a result, our collective free periods, like late start mornings and lunches, became think tanks and fish bowls for voicing our concerns to the administration. Most of us traveled far distances to get to school, so we relied on these periods for rest and recharging, but we knew that the work we were doing was bigger than our desire to socialize. 

However, there was a great strain on our spirits. We were constantly exhausted and irritable, and everyone argued all the time. Those times were trying. As I look back on my St. Luke’s experience, I can easily say that that period truly eroded my mental and emotional health and I, like many others, consistently felt low and isolated. On top of that, we were all still expected to keep up with our academics, which felt like they were moving exponentially faster than we could manage. St. Luke’s administrators tend to lean on underrepresented students because they believe that it qualifies as representation. It is unfair to hear us say that we do not like having to become the teacher in the classroom and then put us in the position of being the teacher outside of the classroom, as well. I believe that in the future, St. Luke’s should continue giving “woke” students who want to be a part of social justice work different opportunities and platforms, as you did for us. However, it is important that going forward, those kids also have the opportunity to take a break and prioritize their mental health over SLS diversity and inclusion work. 

Earlier, I said that my St. Luke’s experience can be characterized by the words “trying and triumphant,” and I have already explained a number of the trying aspects of the past four years, so I will move on to the positives. St. Luke’s has offered me a number of opportunities that I never would have gotten if I attended my local high school. Through SLS, I spent three weeks on the Appalachian Trail, traveled to Argentina, participated in a civil rights trip, attended the Student Diversity Leadership Council in California, organized a school-wide walkout to support gun control legislation, and so much more. Of course, I discovered my passion for social justice through adversity and the obstacles I faced in my early St. Luke’s days, but the ways that I have been able to fulfill this passion have been amazing learning experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

I understand that the positives I’ve listed are much shorter than the negatives, but that is for a reason; the point of this article is not to talk about how great my high school experience was because, truthfully, it was not always fun. The point is to reflect on my time at St. Luke’s and bring attention to some of the ways that our school community can improve for the betterment of underrepresented students’ experiences. I ask that administrative figures learn to better support the students that they lean on to improve the school environment. Strong mental health is an important part of fighting for justice, as it is common to feel discouraged or experience activism burnout. Please work with students to make sure that they are strong enough to do the heavy lifting of social justice and advocacy work. And I want white, affluent St. Luke’s students to understand that their peers of color or lower socioeconomic statuses have to face many hardships in order to attend SLS; there are many obstacles to overcome before achieving academic success, breaking athletic records, or earning a lead role in the winter musical. The biggest recommendation that I can give to future generations of St. Luke’s students is to work hard to understand and empathize with the experiences of those around you. 

I will forever appreciate all that St. Luke’s has offered to me. In everything that I’ve gone through, I have become a very strong, ambitious young woman. I am proud of all that I have accomplished, and I know that I will accomplish so much more. I am also so proud of all of my friends’ accomplishments because they inspire me to set new goals for myself every day. Before closing this article, I must say thank you to the strong network and support system that I have built during my time on the Hilltop. I have so much gratitude for the teachers, students, and anyone else who stood by me when I needed it most. Of course, I am sad about how my time in St. Luke’s ended, as the coronavirus pandemic took away my senior spring, but I am even more excited about what the future holds.