By The Root of Our Youth – Tara Duong, Diya Kumar, Diya Anoop, Phia Endicott, Marlo Duong, Malavika Santhosh, Zana Stewart, and Molly Reagan
Without tangible mental health support, students—especially BIPOC—have been left to fend for ourselves throughout remote learning. In an attempt to remedy the emotional damage caused by the abrupt closing of schools, the recent switch to hybrid learning has ironically been handled in the same haphazard manner, with the causes of these mental complications remaining unaddressed.
Our education system teaches students that academic success holds greater value than our health. We’re in a position where we must suppress our mental and emotional needs to survive. When the pandemic hit, we suddenly had the time and space to express ourselves freely, leading us to recognize the severity of our struggles and the damages imposed by the education system.
While the school environment has its faults, isolation has made the management of mental health and academic success increasingly difficult. Numerous elements of in-person school cannot be recreated online, such as connecting and collaborating with peers, and effective communication with teachers. There is little to no opportunity for teamwork, a skill we’ve been conditioned to depend on since primary school. We were taken out of an environment rich in support and dropped into seclusion.
Additionally, it’s impossible to replicate the structure and discipline on-campus school brings, and the collective focus of students has crumbled. Expecting our independent performance to be on par with such on-campus is entirely unrealistic. Furthermore, we’re struggling to set boundaries within our spaces; our bedrooms have become a place for in-class learning, homework, leisure, and rest. Even our devices fail to divide work and play. We’re in a productivity limbo, and losing the dichotomy between academia and relaxation.
Despite forced adjustments brought on by the pandemic, we’re still obligated to perform at impossible standards. These expectations have an undeniable toll on the mental health of all students, however, it’s important to acknowledge that White Supremacy Culture amplifies this effect on BIPOC students. Characteristics of WSC include perfectionism, a sense of urgency, quantity over quality, and individualism. The foundational whiteness of our education system remains undetected or ignored by our white educators and peers. While it’s true that all students feel a need to maintain proximity to whiteness, for BIPOC, this benchmark is impossible for us to reach, making us vulnerable to feelings of failure.
On top of coping with WSC, BIPOC students are forced to endure the school environment despite the racial harassment we may face on a daily basis. Due to the persistent trauma of racial violence, most notably the increased coverage of police brutality, BIPOC are strikingly aware of our existence in an environment that wasn’t made for us. Lack of acknowledgment or blatant insensitivity pressures us into hiding our hardship without any support. In not addressing the specific needs of BIPOC students, you’re failing us.
The task of advocating for mental health is placed, time and time again, on the shoulders of the same students that haven’t had a break since August. This is not sustainable. Student activists are rapidly burning out trying to regulate our mental health whilst supporting others. This cycle of trauma, exhaustion, and fruitless labor begs disruption. We need solutions.
There’ve been feeble attempts at extending support in the online setting, however much of that responsibility has been set on students. Furthermore, said “support” boils down to tired-out advice and hotline numbers. Though these problems seem insurmountable, better solutions to these challenges exist.
Youth have the power to demand change, but it’s up to adults to take action. Forcing BIPOC students to forfeit our innocence and solve problems manufactured by generations of white supremacy exemplifies the lack of accountability of people in power. It isn’t our responsibility to solve systemic issues that have been neglected for decades. Youth mental health must be prioritized without the burden of change resting on the victims of the system. We are at our breaking point.
- Recording of the March 2021 Well Beings event on Centering the Mental Health of Black Youth. This is part of the national Well Beings initiative, presented with KCTS 9 and the WA Therapy Fund Foundation. The content of this virtual event is appropriate for ages 13 and up. These links are a replay of the entire event and a download of the resource guide:
- Black Minds Matter, presented by Shoreline SD Black Voices Series
- https://ashleymcgirt.com and the Washington state BlackTherapyGoFundMe. See #WATherapyFund for more information
- Community Healing Network
- And here are the Racial Healing Circles hosted by The Root Of Us and Root Of Our Youth Programming
Tara Duong is a junior at Bothell High School in Bothell and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Diya Kumar is a junior at Bothell High School in Bothell and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Diya Anoop is a junior at Bothell High School in Bothell and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Phia Endicott is a senior at Bothell High School in Bothell and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Marlo Duong is a freshman at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Malavika Santhosh is a junior at Bothell High School in Bothell and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Zana Stewart is a junior at Bethel High School in Spanaway and co-founder of the Root of Our Youth
Molly Reagan is a senior at Bothell High School in Bothell and a member of the Root of Our Youth
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One comment on “Mental Health from the Perspective of BIPOC Student Activists”
Thank you for this scholarly & cathartic work on behalf of BIOPC Students & their parents. Reading about this topic & talking about it is therapeutic, so thank for the catalyst that The Root of Our Youth is, and the leadership from the team of authors Malavika, Marlo, Diya A., Tara, Zana, Phia, Diya K., & Molly. Gratitude to Arik Korman & League of Education Voters for the ways you’ve prioritized information on public school student mental health during pandemic with rich online workshops, forums, panel discussions & publishing articles like this one. Most of all, thank you for your role in centering Student voices. No assessment or decision about public school students should be made without input from the Students. Then the “burden of change,” so well defined here, must be absorbed by school administrators & parents.