A Defined Voice for Undefined
By Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy
About the Author:
Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy, age 17, is a senior at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, DE. She was born and raised in Delaware, where she lives with her mother and step-family. Whitney is passionate about race and the racial inequality in our world. She has transformed this passion into reality by serving as the Founder and President of Undefined, an affinity support group for the African-American and Latino students attending Ursuline. In addition to leading Undefined, Whitney is an honors student and a member of the varsity basketball team. She also participates in choir and musical theatre at Ursuline. Whitney is a member of two leadership programs called Delaware Youth Leadership Network and Youth Advocacy Council. On Saturdays, she participates in the TeenSHARP College Access Ambassadors program. Whitney’s hobbies include singing, participating in sports, playing video games, watching YouTube, and spending time with friends and family.
Linked In: Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy
Most people have a voice that they use for just about everything. Your voice is most likely a mundane part of yourself that you don’t pay much attention to. You get to know your voice like the back of your hand as you use it to perform everyday tasks. This experience is one that close to everyone has. Each person has a different voice that is utilized in hundreds of diverse ways throughout their lives. Yet, when we hear a new and unique voice, it sticks out. Furthermore, because it is human nature to be curious, we wonder what makes this voice so unique.
I will use my own voice for example. During my middle school years, My voice became much deeper than all of my female classmates. Fortunately, I was not bullied because of my voice, but the little details started to add up. I could always feel that deep vibration in the back of my throat whenever I spoke. I always felt out of place whenever the girls spoke in unison. By the time I reached seventh grade, these struggles became more and more noticeable. The sound of my voice quickly became an insecurity of mine, and in middle school, it always felt like there was nothing I could do about it.
It was not until I got to my high school, Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, that I began to see that there was plenty that could be done to help me grow comfortable with my voice. I am blessed to be a student at Ursuline because as soon as freshman year, I was surrounded by a warm and loving community that celebrated my unique voice. This community empowered me to not only be confident in my voice, but to do something remarkable with it, something that would impact the entire Ursuline community.
The most rewarding part of my high school experience has been my founding of Undefined, an affinity support club for students of color. Although I love my school, Ursuline’s predominantly white Catholic environment greatly lacks diversity. In my junior class, for example, only 6 out of the 40 girls are women of color. One could count the number of adults of color at Ursuline on one hand. Because of this demographic composition, Ursuline’s minority students lack role models and a support system in an environment where it is desperately needed. Oftentimes, minority students face a jarring culture shock when entering into a predominantly white school, causing them to feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. For these reasons, I became the founder and president of Undefined during my sophomore year with a mission to provide an empowering and uplifting sense of community for Ursuline students of color. Through discussions, guest speaker presentations, cultural celebration events, and an Undefined Buddy System with the elementary-age students of color, Undefined has become a significant addition to our formal education at Ursuline. As Ursuline’s first support group for students of color, Undefined has transformed the entire school community by promoting the understanding of diverse cultures and the experience of minority students.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself: “Why the name Undefined?” Well, in our very first meeting when I asked the group what we should name our new club, one of the students blurted out the name Undefined. She went on to explain that as students of color, we should not feel as though our race or ethnicity is our defining characteristic. This explanation became the foundation of our initiative. When I heard this explanation, I knew that Undefined had the potential to be something special, and I would make it my goal to see that the club became a transformative part of Ursuline culture.
The administration, faculty, and students at Ursuline helped me to build Undefined into one of the most active student-led initiatives at Ursuline. They have empowered my to use my own voice to give a voice to others who feel as though they do not have one.
In the spring of my junior year I delivered a TEDx talk as a speaker in the TEDxYouth@UrsulineAcademy event hosted by my school. My talk, titled Why Microaggressions Aren’t So Micro (https://youtu.be/Z7l194OXxYo), allowed me to bring the experiences of Undefined’s students to the attention of thousands of people. A few months later in May, I was honored to earn a Certificate of Accomplishment from the Princeton Prize in Race Relations. Each year, Princeton University awards the prize to 4-5 high school students who have promoted harmony and understanding among diverse people, thus evoking a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities. As I stood up to deliver my speech at the awards ceremony, I realized that my voice had become one of the things I love most about myself. The applause from the Ursuline community furthered this realization and opened my eyes to the true impact that my confidence in a deep voice had on an entire body of people.
Although I will always be mindful of the way my voice sounds, I will also never forget how this deep voice has accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. Using my voice to serve Undefined students has led me to develop a passion for contributing and studying race relations. I am beyond grateful to have a voice that has fueled a new culture within my school that I love so dearly.