In the Wake of Mr. Andrew Yoshihara’s Departure, Students and Staff Reflect on His Impact


Reilly Smith

Mr. Andrew Yoshihara served in the position of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Support since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

Maddie Khaw, Editor in Chief

In the pre-pandemic era, senior Joshly Huitzil-Interian always skipped out on the cafeteria during lunchtime.

While groups of students flooded the lunchroom, grabbing seats at long wooden tables, filling the crowded cafeteria with the noise of post-class chatter, Huitzil-Interian — along with several other students of color — would walk out of the cafeteria doors and through the entrance to the Counseling Center, into the office of Mr. Andrew Yoshihara, who then filled the position of La Salle’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Support.

Entering the Counseling Center, the students tried to be quiet so as not to disturb the counselors working in nearby offices. But once they passed through the door into Mr. Yoshihara’s office — which Huitzil-Interian and her friends lovingly coined “Yosh’s closet” — the students were able to speak and express themselves openly and freely, something that Huitzil-Interian said she doesn’t feel comfortable doing in most other areas of the school.

“Everyone’s connecting, laughing, making jokes, and it just felt so heartwarming to know that although we all have these struggles, we all can… unite and connect together,” Huitzil-Interian said of lunch periods in Mr. Yoshihara’s office. “It was just such a safe space.”

The office was not necessarily physically comfortable. It was small, and often crowded with students and staff who were close with Mr. Yoshihara. There was limited seating, yet still, there was always room for anyone who wanted to be there. Candles and an oil diffuser added some warmth and comfort, and posters of figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Michael Jordan served as decorations. A menorah and a porcelain Black Santa figure delivered cheer during the holidays.   

“Once you walk into the room, you sit down anywhere — in the chair, in the little bench, on the floor, on the table, on his desk — you literally find a spot anywhere,” Huitzil-Interian said. “We’d all be crammed up next to each other, you cannot move. And we would choose to be there and eat… Once that door is closed, we’re allowed to be ourselves, to speak to how we want, to talk about whatever we want.” 

Even throughout the pandemic and distance learning, Mr. Yoshihara continued to provide support, mentorship, and guidance for many students, connecting digitally and setting up weekly Zoom meetings in lieu of those cherished lunch gatherings. After a year and a half of Mr. Yoshihara’s presence at La Salle, many students have cultivated a tight-knit relationship with him and with each other, a relationship bound by trust and solidified by shared experience. 

So, after a Schoology announcement posted on Feb. 11 by school leadership announced that Mr. Yoshihara would not be returning to La Salle, students and staff reacted with a wave of varied emotions.

“It’s just sad,” Huitzil-Interian said. “He’s worked so hard to make changes and help students… I haven’t seen a teacher bond as well as these kids bond with Yosh. Our connection with Yosh is something more than what I’ve seen throughout La Salle or how I’ve connected with other teachers.”

Other students emphasized the strength of the relationships they have built with Mr. Yoshihara.

“A lot of students of color, if not the majority of them, were in his office most of the time, just talking to him,” junior Simon Abraha said. “It was a really good resource for us, it was someone we could talk to if we need anything, and we all really trust him.”

Senior Heavenly Salcedo said she appreciated how Mr. Yoshihara was “always there to listen,” and that she felt like she could “talk about whatever with him.”

Students and staff described Mr. Yoshihara as “straightforward,” especially in discussing racial inequities.

“He has a way about him of just telling the truth, saying his truth, saying… what we need to hear and didn’t want to hear,” Director of Service Ms. Sarah Maher said. “I think he had a great impact on our school.”

Abraha said that one thing he appreciates about Mr. Yoshihara is that he doesn’t “sugarcoat” things.

“He just told you how it was,” Abraha said.

Rather than dancing around issues or running away from confrontation, Mr. Yoshihara said he tried to encourage dialogue at La Salle, and aimed to plunge into the heart of problems in order to move towards improvements. 

The work that encompasses efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is “unapologetic work,” Mr. Yoshihara said. “It’s not work you can do and ask permission, it’s more of an ask for forgiveness kind of job.”

Religious studies teacher and equity team member Mr. Tom McLaughlin described Mr. Yoshihara as a “truth teller.”

He’s been fearless in speaking truth,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “He’s reasonable, and he stays calm and measured in all of the interactions that I’ve ever seen. But he also doesn’t back down. He says what he thinks and what he’s witnessing, and I just so deeply respect that, and La Salle needs that — we need that voice.”

Mr. McLaughlin, often called Mr. Mac, said that although this unapologetic telling of the truth can be uncomfortable and even disruptive, it is essential.

“Part of having an equitable community is where many different voices and many different ways are present,” Mr. Mac said. “And when it’s necessary to say the hard thing, and to do something that’s going to make people uncomfortable, we need leaders in that. We can’t always be calm and try and make everybody comfortable, that’s not going to work. And Yosh often would do and say things that made people uncomfortable — and not for the purpose of pissing people off. It was because something needed to be said, something needed to be faced, and he wasn’t afraid to call it out.”

He’s been fearless in speaking truth.

— Mr. Mac

Religious studies teacher and equity team member Mr. Edward Kendrick said that this persistent assertion of the truth is one of the first qualities he noticed about Mr. Yoshihara. He also said that Mr. Yoshihara is “action-focused.” 

“He didn’t like talking about what we were going to do, he wanted to do things,” Mr. Kendrick said. “He was like, ‘We’ve been talking about these things for years, let’s do stuff, and then deal with things as they come… Let’s stop tidying up what we call a problem, and let’s address problems.’”

Mr. Kendrick said that Mr. Yoshihara’s calls to action and straightforward expression of ideas were thought provoking, and helped him realize that with DEI work, “we need to look at, are we just organizing the mess, rather than actually cleaning it up?”

While he values and pushes for dialogue in order to understand others’ perspectives and experiences, Mr. Yoshihara feels that on an institutional level, talking in circles around the edges of an issue can hinder the ability to tackle the problem at its core.

“More action, less talking,” Mr. Yoshihara said. “That seems to be the big hold up in DEI work, is just talk, talk, talk, talk… and you’re just like, holy crap, how much more talking can we do? How about we do something about this?”

A main aspect of Mr. Yoshihara’s role at La Salle was to facilitate conversations when equity-related issues occurred between students. Mr. Kendrick highlighted this goal of “restorative justice” as a contribution that Mr. Yoshihara brought to the community that is “hard to replicate,” as he would aim to resolve racial or otherwise discriminatory offenses with both the victim and the perpetrator in a given instance.

“One of the things he would often say is that kids are still calling Black students the N-word in the hallways, and that needs to stop… that needs to be the priority, that we support students of color,” Mr. Kendrick said. But, “he was also on the frontline of restorative justice for students that did or said racist things, and he would try to bring them back. The victory isn’t that we kick anyone who says something racist out of La Salle, or that they get privately bullied on social media until they leave La Salle. That’s not actually the goal.”

“In all my conversations with Mr. Yoshihara,” Mr. Kendrick said, “even though I wasn’t in those conversations about restorative justice, he is someone who doesn’t bow, he doesn’t break, but he will try to work it out.”

Senior Vishal Casper also noted Mr. Yoshihara’s methods of restorative justice and confronting issues through conversation. As someone who has had “racist comments directed towards me” by other students, Casper said he appreciates Mr. Yoshihara’s guidance in dealing with racist incidents, and that Mr. Yoshihara has “pointed us in the right direction.”

Casper said that Mr. Yoshihara has helped him learn to stand up for himself and others. 

Having dealt with racist comments his whole life, Casper said that he “got numb to it in a way, where it’s something I’m used to,” but Mr. Yoshihara “has been there to tell me, he opened my eyes and was like, ‘Yeah, you shouldn’t deal with that, that’s not how things should be.’”

“I’ve always felt like my voice sometimes has felt muffled or silenced,” Casper said. “Or I’m too scared to speak up about things, and he’s been really encouraging. And he really wants to amplify your voice, and really wants you to understand [that] you shouldn’t be okay with the stuff that’s going on all the time at La Salle, you need to stand up for yourself. That was a really big eye opener for me.”

Mr. Yoshihara feels that it is important for young people to realize their own voice and agency. 

“A kid should never feel like, ‘Oh, I don’t have any power, because I’m a kid,’” Mr. Yoshihara said. “When you all learn how to speak up and speak for yourselves in responsible manners… it’s very powerful. And so, I think it’s just important that that’s something that you’re being taught… You have all the power as kids. You have all the power.”

Mr. Yoshihara waved to students from his car during the “Be The Light” event that took place in the spring of 2020. (Julia Tran)

Like Casper, Huitzil-Interian said that Mr. Yoshihara helped her find her voice. By listening to, empathizing with, and understanding students through shared experiences, Mr. Yoshihara was also able to advocate for students, serving as a bridge to carry student concerns and ideas to school staff and leadership. 

“Before he was at La Salle, we didn’t feel like we really had a say, or [that] we can really defend ourselves in a sense, because people were so closed-minded or they would just not really address the issue,” Huitzil-Interian said. “Mr. Yoshihara made us feel valued and made us feel like our voice was actually important within the La Salle community, although we didn’t feel that way the past few years.”

In contrast to her earlier years at La Salle, when she had found difficulty feeling accepted into the community, Huitzil-Interian said that Mr. Yoshihara’s office “was just a place where I felt safe and respected, and most importantly, understood.”

Mr. Yoshihara said he is glad that he has been able to lift the voices of students who previously hadn’t been heard.

“I think that was a huge impact, was just being their voice in their time of need, when things were happening, and being able to be a direct contact to people that matter, so that situations got handled that same day,” Mr. Yoshihara said. 

Before Mr. Yoshihara worked at La Salle, “a lot of the Black kids would reach out to each other a lot, but didn’t always feel like they had a staff member to reach out to,” senior Nic Boyd said. “It hurts to see him go, because a lot of people really liked him, and I know a lot of people looked up to him… And on top of that, he’s one of the few staff members of color.”

Mr. Mac emphasized the importance for students of color to have staff members who they trust and who can understand their experiences on a firsthand basis.

“One of the Black students told me the other day,” Mr. Mac said, “‘Listen, I know that we have a bunch of allies, white allies, on campus, and that’s awesome. But Yosh knows us… Basically, he’s traveled a similar road to us, and that makes a difference.’ So I see that impact that he’s had for students, especially students of color.”

Ms. Maher expressed similar thoughts. As “a cisgender white woman,” she said, “not that I could ever understand, but I do know the importance of having an adult who looks like you in the building, how that could impact a student, a Black student.”

She said that having staff members of color can help build a deeper sense of trust quicker and easier than students of color might connect with white teachers and staff. 

“There’s that barrier there — that isn’t a good or bad thing, it just is,” Ms. Maher said. “It’s all about lived experience… A huge part of my job, when talking with a student who did not grow up like me or look like me, is just to listen. And to then try to advocate their lived experiences… I can do that until I’m blue in the face, but… for someone like Andrew who can immediately say, ‘I feel you. I was you, in so many regards,’ and then they can build a relationship from there, it’s something that is just irreplaceable.”

Having diversity on the staff isn’t just important for supporting students of color, Mr. Mac said, but also for the betterment of the community as a whole, and the school as an institution.

“La Salle needs more diversity in the voices that are speaking, not just in what they say, but how they say it,” Mr. Mac said. “Yosh brings — he brought — a whole lifetime of experience that no one else had… because he was the only Black man on staff.”

“We don’t have anyone like Yosh on staff,” Mr. Mac said. “We’ve lost a voice that causes discomfort, and causes some people to be upset. We need that voice, we need that perspective. There is no other Black man on campus — that’s a huge void. And it was too much to put on any one person, it was too much to put on Yosh to be the sole Black man who was telling the story from a Black man’s perspective. It shouldn’t be just one person, but at least we had him, and he was strong, courageous, and sometimes reckless. He was willing to say things and do things that might cause trouble for him.”

In light of the role that Mr. Yoshihara played for many students, and the news of his departure, Mr. Mac acknowledged that the school has been working in recent years to address “what [we are] doing that makes it difficult for people of color to feel at home.” But still, he said, it seems that La Salle is “far from” being as equitable and inclusive as it should be and would like to be, and for Mr. Mac and several students, the absence of Mr. Yoshihara feels like a setback in this regard.

Interim Principal Ms. Alanna O’Brien acknowledged the roles that Mr. Yoshihara played in students’ lives at La Salle, and said that the school is “grateful for the work” that he contributed.

“He connected with students in ways that were inviting and compassionate,” Ms. O’Brien said. “He gave particular care to our students of color and helped navigate authentic conversations to advocate for their needs. He was able to connect with many students and adults in our community and his presence will be missed.”

As the school moves forward,we want our students to feel valued and heard,” Ms. O’Brien said. “While part of the response needs to make sure that students have adults with whom they feel comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences, it also means we need to continue to make all of La Salle a place of welcome and belonging. We understand that having diversity on our staff is critical and are committed to not only exploring ways to meet the needs that arise from Mr. Yoshihara’s departure, but also the needs of our school as a whole.

We want our students to feel valued and heard.

— Ms. O'Brien

“While we recognize the loss that Mr. Yoshihara’s departure brings, we remain committed to serving the needs of our students of color in the weeks and months ahead,” Ms. O’Brien said. 

The first step of this support took place yesterday, Feb. 23, when Director of Equity and Inclusion Ms. Kiah Johnson Mounsey hosted a listening session for students to express their thoughts about the recent staffing changes and the shift to hybrid learning

“I really am hoping that students who haven’t come forward, who do have questions or strong feelings, that they do come forward,” Ms. Mounsey said.

She also said that she understands that Mr. Yoshihara’s departure is “a big loss,” and that although she is a relatively new staff member, she hopes to be present as a support for students.

“I know what an upstanding person he was, and what a role model, a confidant, he was… for a lot of kids in our community,” Ms. Mounsey said. 

With her position being newly created at the start of the school year, Ms. Mounsey said, “I want folks to know that I’m there, and that I’m accessible, and I’m also here to be a resource. And that word ‘resource’ can be open to whatever — whether it’s somebody sitting down and talking to me and having a heart to heart, like… Here’s another person of color, and we’re in this white majority space… Sometimes just having someone in proximity who understands can be really soothing for the soul, and really necessary.”

Ms. Mounsey and Ms. O’Brien said the administrative team isn’t putting a time frame or solidified plan on the table for staffing replacements in the Office of Equity and Inclusion — rather, they are looking to identify the needs of the students and move forward from there.

“I think it’s going to take some conversation with some folks, students included, to think about what is going to be best for La Salle next,” Ms. Mounsey said. “People are still processing… I think the intentionality piece is really important, and finding out exactly what our needs are.”

Ms. O’Brien emphasized this need for conversations in order to gain an understanding of students’ perspectives and identify ways to support them.

“Many things have been put in place in the past several years — assemblies and celebrations, affinity groups, updated handbook policies and language, professional development for all staff, and curriculum updates,” Ms. O’Brien said. “Yet relationships have always been the heart of our work, and building relationships with students of color, and making sure they have adults in the building they trust is imperative for our work as a school.”

Though one of Ms. Mounsey’s continued goals is to expand the Office of Equity and Inclusion, she said that in the wake of Mr. Yoshihara’s departure, her first priority is to support students in moving forward.

“I just hope that as a community we can figure out a way to forge ahead,” Ms. Mounsey said. “This is unfortunate, it’s a loss to our community… but really centering grace and compassion, and looking forward to how we can heal as a community and come out on the other side stronger… If we’re strategic about it, I think we can do that.”

Even with hope and intentionality moving forward, Ms. Mounsey recognized and acknowledged that there is “confusion, and frustration, and anger, and hurt” among some students, especially those who remain close with Mr. Yoshihara. Though there isn’t a “quick and easy way to fix it,” she said, “at least we can begin with listening.”

Still, various students and staff are feeling the effects of the departure of a mentor, leader, colleague, friend, and counselor.

“La Salle is a lesser place now, without Yosh there,” Mr. Mac said.

Abraha noted how Mr. Yoshihara not only supported students individually, but also brought students of different backgrounds together through their shared connection with Mr. Yoshihara, as well as in some cases, similar experiences as students of color in a majority white school.

“Once he leaves, it’s going to be a lot of changes,” Abraha said. “There’s probably going to be that separation again, people just doing their own thing, no unity. It’s just going to be the past — history repeats itself.”

Similarly, Casper said he feels that Mr. Yoshihara’s departure is a “big step back.”

“I feel like Yosh has really advocated for students and really has been a voice for a bunch of students,” Casper said. “For a long time, a lot of students, especially people of color, haven’t had [that voice], and Yosh was really there to amplify. He was like a megaphone for the students.”

Mr. Yoshihara said that his connections with students were his favorite part of his job.

“I really did enjoy my time at La Salle,” he said. “I just appreciate the trust that kids gave me from the job, and just the laughs, like all the laughs that we had in my office, and fun times… I truly did enjoy that.”

He said he hopes that La Salle can become a more equitable and inclusive place, a goal that the school has been working and will continue to work towards. 

Though students of color no longer have Mr. Yoshihara as a staff member to amplify their voices and bring their concerns to the larger school staff, Huitzil-Interian said that she will retain all that she learned from Mr. Yoshihara, including the importance of speaking out for herself and others — as well as to listen when other people are the ones speaking out.

“Although it’s a little hard to know that he’s not going to be in the building, I know that all his teachings and his advice is going to stick around with us,” Huitzil-Interian said. “And we’re going to execute that throughout the school and we’re going to basically show what he’s taught us, and we’re going to put that into play.”