Silvia Carias-Centeno: the student behind change

Naomi Hancock, News Editor

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered beneath the knee of Derek Chauvin. The trigger of a national––and partly international––movement, millions of citizens took to the streets to protest the tragically common deaths plaguing Black America. In June, alongside eleven founding members, Silvia Carias-Centeno found a way to unite students with the Issaquah School District to voice their concerns about the current state of the ISD, especially about the disturbing lack of comments by the district regarding the racial tension and civil unrest found in America..

The President of the ISD Student Equity Council, Carias-Centeno has given students a platform for such a desire. The President of the Council, Carias-Centeno has taken on the heavy burden of becoming the liaison between the student body and district staff. 

It all began when a graduated activist at Gibson Ek decided to give students a platform to voice their concerns. Applications were sent out to different students across the district, including Carias-Centeno. She was accepted at the beginning of 2020—right as Covid-19 swept across the globe.

The Council consequently faded into the background behind the chaos of our “new normal,” despite what Carias-Centeno felt was an imperative time to act in terms of justice: not only was Covid-19 disproportionately impacting marginalized communities, but in late May, George Floyd’s death was still fresh in the minds of millions. Despite the devastating murder, Floyd opened the gates to a passionate resurgence of allyship in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

With this allyship came an increase in self-education. People all around the country were becoming aware of systemic racism and the issues impacting marginalized groups. Yet this allyship was missing in one of the institutions centralized around inequity: our schools, who were not effectively commenting on the heightened racial tension our country was dealing with.

And while Carias-Centeno was introduced to the topic of equity at a young age due to Rainier Scholars, a program specializing in educating low-income students, hundreds of thousands of students across the nation were suddenly thrown into the deep end of a complex and gory history of systemic racism after a tragically common death brought the horrible truth of Black America into the light. 

All of a sudden, there were terms for the experiences students belonging to marginalized groups were facing. People found out why so many low-income youths are Black and Brown and why so many Black people were suffering at the hands of the cops sworn to protect them.

Furious that the schools weren’t acting on their responsibility to serve the identities that were suffering the most during the height of the nation’s issues, Carias-Centeno sent a pivotal email to the Gibson Ek activist. Shortly thereafter, Carias-Centeno was appointed President of the Council. 

Since then, the Council has given 60 students of various identities within the district a safe space to share their thoughts, concerns, and own experiences about not just last summer’s incidents, but about the lasting institutionalized discrimination faced by so many identity groups. 

“I didn’t expect this to mean so much to people,” Carias-Centeno said. “Members have expressed their gratitude for being able to be part of this group that funneled their growth in advocacy and empowerment.”

And it’s the Council that Carias-Centeno believes is the embodiment of equity work as a whole. 

“It’s not about one person or even a small group; it’s about the collective experience we all share because of our identities,” Carias-Centeno said. “We often result in questioning our place in the classroom and being submissive due to our backgrounds. But an essential concept I want everyone to understand is that our experiences can never be invalidated, nor dismissed.” 

She continued by emphasizing students are the ones living the experience of inequities, and thus their voices should be valued and prioritized. Too often, marginalized groups are denied a seat at the decision-making table; this lack of representation leaves out so many people trapped in an education system built for privileged students. 

Carias-Centeno believes that this behavior is reflective of our nation as a whole. The systemic ills that plague our country have become deeply-ingrained; however, some adults have the privilege to overlook these issues, having a detrimental impact on the experiences of students. Yet this is a privilege most of us do not have, which only reinforces the need for others to listen. To listen, and to uplift these marginalized voices. 

“The work of the Council is more than a mere activity for students; it is a lived experience turned into empowerment for greater change in not just current district staff, but also future administrators,” Carias-Centeno said.