Fiona Sosnowski wants to be a biomedical researcher. Isabel Swafford wants to be an astronaut. Neither of them, they said, match up to the image most people have of scientists.
"I rarely saw women doing what I wanted to do," Sosnowski said of workplaces and media depictions.
In a presentation to fellow students March 22 as part of the second annual Boise High School Student Symposium, Sosnowski and Swafford made the case that veiled sexism has been a wall separating women from the careers of their choice. Their presentation, "Breaking Up the Boys' Club: Women in STEM," was part of a student-led, district-sanctioned takeover of the school, comprised of almost 100 speeches, presentations and workshops—all of which were conducted by students around the theme "Be the Change."
The students a lot of politically and socially sensitive material. Celia Hausske was one organizer of "LGBTQ+ Rights: Protect Yourself and Loved Ones," a workshop about intersectionality, privilege and "coming out" as queer to parents. Activist, former Idaho lawmaker and Boise Weekly columnist Nicole LeFavour spoke about the impact of LGBT issues on her own family and some of the dangers facing queer Idahoans. Hausske, a member of Boise High's Gay-Straight Alliance, wanted the event to be accommodating to students who might have questions, rather than be shocking in any way.
"We don't want people who aren't in the queer community to have their heads exploded," she said.
Organizers of the workshop said they intended to demystify the queer community for outsiders and allies, and offer support for its members by revealing the experiences of LGBT people through storytelling. During her presentation, LeFavour said, "The price people have paid for coming out has been really steep," and has included death, estrangement from family, the destruction of careers and more.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage—a leap forward—but in 2016, the LGBT community suffered a string of tragedies, including a shooting at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub that left 49 dead and 53 wounded. In the Treasure Valley, openly gay Boise State University employee and local actor Steven Nelson was lured to the shores of Lake Lowell and beaten (he later died from his injuries). One of his assailants, Kelly Schneider, was convicted on a federal hate crime charge earlier this year.
Telling stories, said student organizer Sadie Heartman, is one way of warming people to the topic, but that can get complicated.
"There are so many layers [to coming out] and it's all personal," she said.
Across the hall from the LGBT workshop, Ryan Hill and Hayden Cooper occupied an English classroom to link private prisons to the war on drugs, civil rights violations and criminal recidivism. Hill and Cooper briefly discussed the Corrections Corporation of America scandal at the Idaho Correctional Institution that resulted in CCA handing the keys to the state's largest prison back to the state of Idaho. Currently, only private prison in the Gem State remains.
Hill said he first learned about the topic from an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but always thought the government operated the criminal justice and corrections systems. He was aghast to discover the scale of privatized prisons, the relationships between the corporations that run them and how justice is served, and the sheer number of incarcerated Americans.
As he dug deeper, Hill became convinced profit motive has made private corporations unfit to operate prisons.
"[Private prisons] don't do anything to help prisoners," he said. "[Prisoners] just get stuck in a rut."