Leading by Example

La Follette Student Savanna Lee

Savanna Lee is eager to leap forward toward success, so she’s set herself up for it.

As a junior at La Follette High School, she carries an impressive 3.8 GPA that she hopes will help carry her right into acceptance at UW-Madison. To that end, Savanna joined the UW-Madison based PEOPLE Program her freshman year that promises a free, four-year tuition ride if she is ultimately accepted there after finishing the program’s rigorous 4-year commitment. And there’s no reason to believe she won’t be. Savanna fully takes advantage of the program’s homework club, a four-day, four-hour a week requirement that exposes her to tutors who attend UW-Madison. She finds this tutoring time with UW students motivates her to work harder to gain acceptance there. And she’s looking forward to the PEOPLE Program’s summer camp on campus that will appoint her into a summer internship position—another path to successfully launch.

In her essay that follows, Savanna says that being a Black student in a primarily white group of honors and AP students has not held her back. She acknowledges her spot within in that realm, the advantages at home that help her succeed, and the pride she has in being a Black student who leads by example.

- Pat Dillon

My Point of View 
by Savanna Lee 
La Follette High School Class of 2020

Growing up in Madison, in what I would consider a pretty diverse community, I have never really felt that I was any different from anyone else, or that being Black would ever hold me back from doing anything I wanted in life.  I think my exposure to being around successful people of color helped to shape my outlook on what my future could look like and the path to get there. People like my parents, extended family, and community members have served as examples of successful Black people. The common thread to their success is education.

I started to pay close attention to race at school my sophomore year when I realized that about half of the classes I was in had mostly white students. For most of high school, I have taken both honors and AP classes, as a way to prepare myself for college. I found that my honors and AP classes weren’t as diverse, and few people looked like me. While in my general level classes there were more people of color. I wondered, "Where did the 'mix' of people go?" 

It took some time to get use to being in this new learning environment, where few people looked like me, including my teachers. I noticed that most, if not all of the teachers I have had up to that point were white. While outside of the classroom, in the hallways, commons, and lunch room I noticed different groups of students hanging out together. While the majority of the student body is white, I noticed smaller subgroups of Black and Brown students sprinkled throughout the crowd, similar to my classroom experience.
At times I have felt that I have needed to work around a “Black student” stereotype. I sometimes feel that most people expect Black students to be loud, unruly, and have no desire to do any schoolwork. This just isn’t true. This stereotype doesn’t represent who I am as a Black student. I feel that I prove this wrong, and I do this by leading by example.
My experience as a Black student athlete in a team sport has been different than what I experience in school. I think that when you are working together toward a common goal, the team pulls together in a different way. One example is when the cheer team went to the playoffs for our school football team. This game was in a city with a lot more white people than we are use to. During the game, we heard a racially insensitive comment directed at students from our school. As a Black student athlete, the racial slur made me very uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to respond. The team quickly came to each other’s defense in that moment.  What helped to ease this a little was the reassurance of my teammates, who are a mix of different races, making sure that others were okay and to not let the comment affect us as a whole. 

While I am grateful for their support and observation, I don’t believe white students have to be as conscious about the people around them, including teachers and teammates, because they are the majority in most of these settings. I am grateful to have adults and community members in my life that remind me to be proud of being a Black student.