New student club fights intolerance

Following the discovery of two swastikas at Wilton High School last month, the student government came up with a student initiative to curb intolerance — the Students for Tolerance club.

Student Government Vice President Ryan Kettle is the founder and president of the club and said he came up with the idea while meeting with his fellow student government members.

“In student government, we identified a need for this club. It was our job to analyze what clubs currently exist that combat intolerance and whatnot, and it was very strange because there were none that do that for racism and bigotry,” he said.

“We do have clubs at the high school for tolerance, but they are designed for like Amnesty International or Best Buddies, which deals with students with special needs, but there are no clubs that deal with general bigotry and racism.”

Ryan said after Principal Robert O’Donnell made an appearance on News 12 to discuss the high school’s swastika incidents, it became “really apparent” that a club like Students for Tolerance was needed.

“When Principal O’Donnell got on News 12 and was talking about the institutions that are in the school to combat intolerance, obviously, there was no club at that point to talk about,” said Ryan.

“It was all school initiatives and no student initiatives, and we realized that there needs to be a student initiative to deal with racism and whatnot.”

Ryan said the idea for the club came about around Oct. 1, “give or take a few days.”

“We got it in right before the Oct. 10 deadline to be a pilot club for this year,” said Ryan. “As its first year of the club being at Wilton High School, it was given pilot status, and if it continues next year, it will become just like any other club at the high school.”

Ryan said he and student government members Cooper Pellaton, Will Desantis and Geoff Keating, who are also officers of Students for Tolerance, passed out a paper for interested students to sign as part of the club-forming process.

“We got 38 signatures without even trying, and we only needed 20,” he said. “I think that a lot more than 40 students will join because the club is more of a forum than the traditional type of club where you have to do a bunch of work and whatnot.”

Ryan said the club will be a forum for the average student club member, “but for the officers like myself, we’ll have some specific duties that we’re taking upon ourselves and not really delegating it to the members.”

Ryan said club officers are going to write and distribute a monthly school newsletter and do frequent student polls through Wilton High School’s advisory program.

“We also plan on writing editorials to newspapers — not just within Wilton, but within Fairfield County — on our progress as an organization,” he said.

According to the Students for Tolerance flyer, the club also aims to “provide a club environment where all students can feel free to share concerns about intolerance in the school climate” and “spread awareness through guest speaker assemblies.”

“Racism and intolerance have created a hostile and unsafe environment in our school, potentially,” said Ryan, “and with these recent incidents of bigotry in just the first month of school, we’re on the verge of infamy within Fairfield County.”

Part of the club’s goal is to help Wilton High School “turn this around and prove that our school is truly a tolerant community,” said Ryan. “We cannot let hateful acts ruin our school’s good name,” said Ryan. “This is a new club, setting a positive example for Wilton.”

Getting the entire student body’s support for the club wasn’t so easy, said Ryan, adding that part of the club’s mission is to “make people aware that there are a lot more things at risk than they realize.”

“What we really have to realize is that not all students at Wilton High School are the most tolerant people, and even though Wilton is not a racist town, some students weren’t happy that we were starting a club like this,” Ryan explained.

“Some students thought the club was unnecessary — a lot of students thought that the swastikas were just a prank or joke, and we agree that that’s a possibility, but a lot of people have failed to recognize the fact that our school’s name is at stake here.”

The first Students for Tolerance meeting took place Wednesday, Oct. 15, said Ryan.