By Alex Long
Feeling plagued by the underrepresentation of minority groups in literature within the Howard County School System, Senior Erin Cutroneo testified in front of the Board of Education on October 20th, 2016. Her testimony called for equal representation between all races and genders in literature within the school system. Part of her journey began sitting in her 10th grade English class. As Sophomore year progressed, Cutroneo realized that there were very few, if any, anchor texts written by women taught in her class. Cutroneo also felt that the way the class was run was all wrong. The class was based on memorizing facts in the literature they had read, and not the true content of the book. She brought her concerns to her English teacher, and he dismissed her. She then brought her concerns to the Vice Principal, who dismissed her as well. Looking back, Cutroneo recalls, “It was factors working against me that made me want to do it more”.
As Cutroneo's high school career progressed, she began to feel more strongly about the issues that most people refused to speak with her about. Cutroneo shares that, “When all the books you read are by white men, you kind of feel like you don’t have a voice.” She was ready to make a change.
Cutroneo kept a list of all of the anchor texts she had read in her English class, and was even able to draw data from around the county about books being read. At this point, Cutroneo chose to target underrepresentation of women in literature, but she made sure to mention that she could have taken many other angles as lots of other groups were also underrepresented. Cutroneo then began to formulate her speech, “I just started ranting, I had the data in my head”. Even as she was waiting for her turn to testify, Erin was editing her speech with a pencil in order to make it fit into the three minute window she had to present. Despite the fact that she recalls being nervous to testify, she said that she was confident in what she was saying and knew somebody had to speak up. Although her speech helped her to gain confidence in her beliefs, she feels as if her speech didn't really have that big of an impact, “You can say words and put the ideas in their mind but it won't do anything, you have to keep pushing for it”. And she did. Cutroneo then began working in the classroom with her teachers to make a change as it yielded a much more tangible effect.
Cutroneo plans to continue fighting for what she believes in and helping others. In order to do that, she is majoring in International Affairs at Northeastern University so that she can bring people together, and help countries ravished by war to rebuild. In 10 years, Cutroneo hopes to see herself doing something important that makes her feel fulfilled and improves people’s lives.