Unity Council Speaker Series: Mia Guien


Noura Jabir

Guien held a sit-down discussion with the other students at the meeting.

Noura Jabir, Abigail Poag, and Laney Chang

Unity Council started a student speaker series, which gives students the opportunity to talk about issues of diversity and inclusion that they’re passionate about. Check out the Review Online later for more coverage of the series!

Tía. A simple Spanish word, a term of endearment for a Spanish-speaking child’s aunt. In the first grade, that simple three-letter word set senior Mia Guien apart from her classmates.

Guien detailed her first experience realizing she was “different” at Unity Council’s speaker series premiere on April 10. She described a time in first grade at St. John’s when she mentioned her tía to some friends, and they replied, confused, “What’s a tía? 

At the event, which took place in Frankel Mezzanine and drew a crowd of over 20 students, Guien showcased a film she made in her Memoirs class this past March, which explored her Chicana identity.

According to Guien, English teacher Rachel Weissenstein was a driving force behind her decision to share her film with Unity Council.

“Ms. Weissenstein asked me if it would be okay if she shared the video with Dr. Batiste,” Guien said. “Having someone say that my thoughts and what I expressed in my video were worth listening to made me think that I wanted to share this video with people.”

Weissenstein says that she immediately thought to share the film with Unity Council, as it depicted Guien’s journey in understanding identity and culture in the SJS community.

“Anytime we can broaden our understanding of the diverse and amazing voices that are here, we are enriched as a community,” Weissenstein said.

Guien also hoped her message would reach students who share similar struggles with their identity.

“I want people who feel the same way as me to know that they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones that feel like this,” Guien said.

Guien is a co-president of Latinos Unidos, the Upper School’s Latinx affinity group. Her interest in facilitating discourse about racial, ethnic and cultural differences sparked from a Student Diversity Leadership Conference she attended as a junior.

“It opened my eyes to how problems about embracing diversity are not just prevalent at our school; they’re prevalent in private schools across America,” Guien said.

In her experiences at SJS, Guien has found that the school lacks a safe space to engage in healthy conversation about sensitive topics.

“We have lots of diverse voices that have a lot to say about identity that you can’t just hear about in the classroom,” Guien said. “We need to open up.”

According to Unity Council co-chair senior Layo Laniyan, Unity Council aims to do exactly that.

“Unity Council’s role in the SJS community is to ensure that students of all identities feel valued and respected — that means taking the initiative in starting uncomfortable situations and using our platform to educate the larger student body,” Laniyan said.

Moving forward, Guien suggests that the curriculum could help enrich all students’ perspectives by including more texts written by people of color.

“The first time I read something by a Mexican-American author was in sophomore year, but it wasn’t highlighted until junior year,” Guien said. “It would be helpful for other students of color to read things by authors just like them.”

Instead of waiting until senior-year seminars to open up discussion about identity and culture, Guien added, the school should start integrating these concepts as soon as students enter ninth grade.

“It’s important to start introducing those kinds of topics at the beginning of high school,” Guien said. “I wish I could have had some of that.”