'I can't wait to continue learning': Catching up with Central students who led charge against book ban

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

For a small band of fierce, determined high school students notable for protesting a book ban earlier in the school year, activism won't stop once classes end in May.

Edha Gupta, Renee Ellis, Christina Ellis and Olivia Pituch have become household names at Central York High School since leading the charge last fall to reverse a school board decision that banned a four-page list of diversity resource materials.

With graduation on the horizon for Gupta and Pituch, the decision to remain active was an easy choice.

Panther Anti-Racist Student Union organizer Edha Gupta speaks at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Gupta is a Central York High School senior. Bill Kalina photo

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Gupta intends to pursue a degree in neuroscience on the pre-med track, though she hasn't decided where she will attend school. Although she might not be advocating for the same things she did in high school, Gupta said she aims to use her talents in the medical field to advocate for people of color. 

“If this journey has shown me anything, it's that activism is in all parts of our life,” Gupta said. “Being that minority representation in a field like medicine can help."

Gupta said, as an example, that some health care workers can be responsible for holding certain biases against patients — especially patients who are perceived as being "lower educated" due to an accent.

Panther Anti-Racist Student Union organizer Edha Gupta hugs union member Olivia Pituch, left, at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Bill Kalina photo

Pituch, meanwhile, plans to continue her activism in a more clear-cut manner: by studying political science.

She has plans to pursue her four-year degree at Elizabethtown College, with a goal of being a diversity specialist in a school, or working for a nonprofit or joining a government official's political team.

"I can't wait to continue learning about social issues and how I can help," Pituch said via email. "Our present day education system lacks LGBTQ, in-depth women and BIPOC history and education, so I am looking forward to receiving the education I have wanted in college and use it in my work."

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Renee Ellis still has one year of high school before college decisions roll around.

The junior said she wants to continue emphasizing activism through her hobbies. In her artwork, specifically, she can tell stories and create conversations surrounding racial issues.

Members of the Panther Anti-Racist Union. From left to right, Patricia Jackson, Renee Ellis, Olivia Pituch, Christina Ellis, Ben Hodge and Edha Gupta. Photo credit by Panther Anti-Racist Union.

Most recently, Ellis painted two portraits of African American men. In the background of each portrait, she wrote keywords describing who they could be.

Her goal with the paintings was to illustrate the idea that one cannot judge a book by its cover.

Hobbies aside, Ellis said she might be interested in pursing business or political science.

“I'm advocating for the right people in and making sure minorities have a voice," she added.

Meanwhile, Ellis' older sister Christina is striving to achieve her own dreams in her post-graduate plan.

Christina Ellis, who will be graduating alongside Gupta and Pituch, plans to study biology and Spanish. 

She intends to specialize in obstetrics, gynecology and emergency medicine, she said via email.

"With my knowledge of medicine as a doctor, my plan is to advocate for women's health and human rights," Christina Ellis said. "Though my career path isn't directly being an activist, I believe all careers can have a place within their expertise to care about fellow human beings."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.