Poly Prep Senior Wins Princeton Prize in Race Relations

Poly Prep senior Ayisha McHugh (Class of 2012) has won the prestigious Princeton Prize in Race Relations. She is the sole winner from New York City. McHugh was set to receive her award at the Princeton Club on April 11. She will also participate in the “Princeton Prize in Race Relations Symposium,” from April 26-28, at Princeton University.

The Princeton Prize was instituted in 2003 “to promote harmony, understanding, and respect among people of different races by identifying and recognizing high school age students whose efforts have had a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities.”

Princeton University’s Alumni Association sponsors the prize, which recognizes high school students in 24 cities and regions.

McHugh, Vice President of Poly’s Upper School Student government, won the Princeton Prize for the creation and implementation of a program that enables students to safely discuss race, identity, diversity, gender issues, bullying, and relationships.

Inspired by Poly’s annual Community & Diversity Day program, a student-led initiative to celebrate difference and community at the school, McHugh’s new program — started in October of 2011 — is called L.E.AD. (Listen, Educate, Approach, Different). L.E.AD. involves a monthly meeting where students engage in what McHugh terms a “dynamic conversation” about diversity and related personal issues.

Due to large turnouts each month, student participants at Poly use three classrooms, each with at least teo facilitators, usually seniors.

McHugh’s only mandate was that students to speak from the “I” perspective, listen to others, be open-minded, and remember that L.E.AD. offers “a safe place” for honest, confidential discussion.

McHugh described L.E.AD. as her legacy at Poly. She hopes the open discussions will lead to “a development of identity” among students, and help define “who we are, what we think.” Many students come back month after month and bring their friends, she said.

McHugh describes herself as “someone who sets goals.” She added: “This initiative has changed Poly’s community and me as a leader.”

Poly Prep’s Director of Diversity Javaid Khan commented: “We could not be more proud of Ayisha McHugh’s efforts in founding L.E.AD. and extending the work of our Community & Diversity Day programming. Winning the Princeton Prize is a testament not only to her work, but also to the significance of the conversations she has initiated over the last seven months.”