Student Leader Who Helped Elevate #IStandWithAhmed Talks Race in Irving

By Sameer Rao Sep 25, 2015

From the news reports, life in Irving, Texas, appears to be pretty bleak for Muslims and people of color. Between police leading Ahmed Mohamed out of MacArthur High School in handcuffs because a teacher said his homemade clock was a bomb, and a mayor who regularly stirs up fears of a Sharia plot, it seems as if this Dallas suburb isn’t very diverse.

To assume this would ignore a reality: In this suburb of about 200,000 people, up to 40,000 are Muslim. Racially speaking, Irving is about 41 percent Latino, 14 precent black and 12 percent Asian. 

We learned that from Karime Alvarado, a 16-year-old senior at MacArthur—the school Mohamed left. On her Twitter page, she mixes standard banter (fresh brownies, "feeling emo") with political messages about white feminism, Donald Trump’s racism, #BlackOutDay and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other issues. A champion of the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag and protests, Alvarado used her feed to document the MacArthur administration’s less-than-satisfactory response to the Mohamed controversy. At the height of the incident, she also helped organize a student meeting with her principal, Daniel Cummings, who is famous for telling parents that he turned Mohamed over to police for "their child’s safety." We talked to about what happened to her schoolmate, Irving’s political leadership and being an activism-minded teen. 

How did you get involved in [activism] at MacArthur High School? 

I’ve always been a social activist, or at least have tried to, on social media and in my community. This side of me hasn’t really been open to talk about it until I realized the actual social issues weren’t just in my community, but also in my school. Sadly, there is a small percentage of students in all schools that are misinformed and uneducated on topics such as racial profiling, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, etc. That is why I started to talk about these things more and more out at school and with school staff. 

Is your school particularly diverse? 

MacArthur is extremely diverse, among both staff and students. For the most part, our school keeps all students, regardless of their race or background, at an equal level. That’s why it surprised me when Ahmed was treated the way he was, considering the presence of Muslim students at our school. 

You criticized your school’s handling of the controversy surrounding Ahmed Mohamed on your Twitter page. What went wrong in how they handled it, and how do you think the administration can improve?

The administration failed to evacuate the school, [which protocol indicates they should’ve done] even if they didn’t find this student a "threat." The student was handcuffed and interrogated without his parents there, and although he was looked at as “suspicious” by the cops and [was investigated for] a “hoax bomb,” they didn’t release [information] until it made big news. 

When I first heard about the incident, I was very angry and couldn’t believe this was the school I had been attending. A few days later, I can kind of understand where the administration was coming from but I’m sure there could have been a much better way to resolve the issue and avoid all of the attention it got. 

Describe your meeting with Principal Cummings.

I planned the meeting that night and gathered people on Twitter from my school to attend the next morning. Since I had been to his office earlier that week to discuss an issue about a teacher I kind of knew how and when we should approach him. There was about a 12-[person] turnout, and each of us spoke to him individually.

What happened prior with a teacher? 

It was an altercation I was involved with between a teacher and another student, over a phone. He yelled at the student, asking for his phone—he had it out in the hallway and phones are not allowed at school. The student didn’t speak English, and I was translating for him since he looked really confused. The altercation was taken care of after Cummings spoke to the staff member.

Irving’s been in the news before thanks to Mayor Beth Van Duyne’s allegations of a Sharia plot developing in the city. Is this kind of rhetoric, in your interpretation, trickling down to your fellow students? Is racism a big problem? 

Our mayor, Mrs. Van Duyne, has been accused of being Islamophobic due to this issue and for standing against requests by Irving Muslim students to better their worship. Not only that, but she has also supported the deportation of undocumented immigrants and the Hispanic community. Being Hispanic myself, I do not fully support her as mayor. I think that she needs to change her point of view regarding residents of color and minorities since Irving is one of the most diverse cities in Texas.

You use your Twitter page to champion a variety of causes, from Black Lives Matter to the DREAM Act. Are there any issues that you feel more invested in than others? Or are they intertwined? 

All social campaigns that I talk about through my social media are equally important to me. But, I do relate more to the DREAM Act/We Are Seeds campaigns since I come from an immigrant family who has gone through what most immigrant families have, including discrimination and lack of acceptance. I’ve been to immigration and DREAM Act events and protests in the past.

Has student advocacy at MacArthur or any other area schools been successful in changing how administrators deal with racism? 

The administration and staff at MacArthur are more aware of how racism affects students, mainly students of color, since this whole [Ahmed] issue began. Staff, as well as students, are way more careful in how they behave in general.

Do you have a message for any high-school students who want to be involved in changing the way their school run? 

To students who want to make a change: Voice your opinion and talk to your administration. If that isn’t helping, then talk to your district about it. Nothing will change if you just preach about it on Twitter but stay quiet at school. Being involved and talking about how important it is to be aware of social issues and how to deal with them can help, even just a little. 

Do you have any advice for Ahmed? 

From what I’ve heard, Ahmed is a very bright kid and I really do encourage him to use the wonderful opportunities this experience has given him to the fullest. I hope we get to speak soon.