By Lizzeth Mancilla
Engagement and Policy Intern
From police violence around the country to the marked increase in attacks on members of the Asian American Pacific Islander community, we are continuing to see disturbing examples of racially motivated violence in the news. Over the past year, social movements have been thrust into the national spotlight, with youth at the forefront of the conversation. Recent incidents are impacting them in multiple ways, but how should K-12 schools respond?
In this webinar, we assembled a statewide panel of students, educators, and a community organizer to discuss the impacts of racially motivated violence and how schools can best support students on a daily basis. They also answered your questions.
Our panelists included:
- Yubi, a junior at Shorewood High School, Shoreline School District, and the Director of Community Outreach with the Washington state Legislative Youth Advisory Council
- Lily, a junior at Mabton High School, Mabton School District, and a Second Year Councilmember with the Washington state Legislative Youth Advisory Council
- Ivy, a junior at North Central High School, Spokane Public Schools, and a First-Year Councilmember with the Washington state Legislative Youth Advisory Council
- Zana, a junior at Bethel High School, Bethel School District, and a member of Root of Our Youth
- Rena, a junior at Cleveland High School, Seattle Public Schools, and a member of the NAACP Youth Council
- Marlo, a freshman at the University of Washington and a member of Root of Our Youth
- Denisha Saucedo, a 6th-grade teacher at Kent Elementary School, Kent School District, and the 2018 Regional Teacher of the Year from the Puget Sound Educational Service District
- Jasmine Linane-Booey, a kindergarten through 8th grade World Languages teacher at Spokane Public Montessori, Spokane Public Schools
- Tina Van, the Community Engagement Coordinator from the Hilltop Peace and Community Center in Tacoma
When students are in school and the topic of racially motivated violence is brought up, how do they internalize the topic?
The students feel that conversations around racially motivated violence aren’t happening enough, even though they are eager and ready to have them. Ivy, a junior at North Central High School, said that she feels “hopeful” when teachers engage in them. However, waiting to have these conversations has impacted students, including Lily, a junior at Mabton High School. She added that “internalizing racially motivated violence is difficult in a school district that doesn’t necessarily acknowledge it or support you in those discussions and topics.” She urges school districts to make an effort in engaging in these conversations. Adding on to Lily’s idea, Yubi, a junior at Shorewood High School, said schools as a whole should work together to have these discussions in order for students to feel cared for and know their school community stands in allyship with them. Similarly, Zana, a junior at Bethel High School, would like to see teachers and admin speak up about how to stop and prevent racism in schools rather than pushing it away and simply telling students to not bully.
Yet, there’s still a lot to consider in school districts that are engaging in these conversations. Rena, a junior at Cleveland High School, suggests schools need to change the school climate for BIPOC students to feel comfortable being in school, be willing to engage in these discussions without fear of repercussions, and feel safe in a white environment.
“If we have all these amazing youth with voices that want to speak and have stuff to say that’s incredible, but if they don’t feel safe speaking up then their voices go unheard,” Rena added.
Marlo, a freshman at the University of Washington, calls for colleges to find solutions for students to feel safe being on campus, but without increasing policing.
Do you find that students are ready for these topics in schools? Are educators ready?
All panelists agreed that students are ready. In fact, many believe these conversations should start in elementary school. Jasmine Linane-Booey, a kindergarten through 8th grade World Languages teacher at Spokane Public Montessori, states that starting them in elementary school would allow us to dig deeper in high school and college when students are “experiencing things in [their] own way.”
Denisha Saucedo, a 6th-grade teacher at Kent Elementary School, emphasized that her students would be even more ready for these conversations if they started in elementary school. Students need a safe space to think for themselves and engage in these discussions when they’re ready. However, a barrier has been teachers and parents thinking their students are too young for the conversation.
There are “educators that are stuck in their belief that they aren’t ready, so they make excuses… ‘I can’t, I don’t want to say the wrong thing, I don’t want to teach the wrong things,'” stated Denisha. “The problem is educators need to provide space, not necessarily be teaching something… Yes, we’re going to make mistakes… Teachers need to stop trying to be teachers and need to be leaders and they need to be coaches and they need to provide the space [for discussion].”
Yubi thinks having these conversations in schools would open up an opportunity for adults, leaders, teachers, and educators to learn from young people.
The lack of conversation in schools led some student panelists to share their frustrations with school districts not making an effort to have these discussions. Marlo and Zana, a junior at Bethel High School, shared that they have always had to racialize themselves as BIPOC and have grown up having these conversations. Marlo adds that they believe the students who aren’t ready for them are white students “who have never had to racialize themselves.”
Tina Van, the Community Engagement Coordinator from Hilltop Peace and Community Center in Tacoma, added, “We are ready, everyone is ready. Maybe not everyone feels ready, but at what point are we asking this and wasting time asking? It feels like we’re prioritizing someone’s comfort over actually doing the real work.”
What are the consequences of not acknowledging instances of racially motivated violence?
A major theme from the panelists was the way these conversations move to social media. Schools aren’t having these discussions, “so people go to social media to share their thoughts. Some things being shared aren’t completely factual. When social media is the only place that they can learn about it, a lot gets lost in translation,” Yubi said. Consequently, this makes it difficult to have informed dialogue.
Rena added that the lack of conversation in schools leads students to create a Twitter thread, TikTok videos, and Instagram posts, which many repost. However, Marlo feels that reposting graphics such as the IG carousel posts has “become a competition of who is the ‘woke-est.'” Both Rena and Marlo agree that this isn’t the best way to help and people should focus their energy on calling school districts, creating policies, and revising curriculums.
When people aren’t willing to have the conversations or have the wrong information, then people don’t know how to be an ally to a community. Lily finds that when a BIPOC student shares their experience, “a white student is already thinking of their response instead of what’s happening, what they (the BIPOC student) have experienced.” Therefore, she asks schools to invest in opportunities, resources, and support for white students in order to learn how to be an ally and “[have] a respectable and appreciative attitude towards race.”
What do students want to see educators do? How can educators work with students?
Tina asks that we normalize having these conversations, are patient, and make sure it is an ongoing discussion that doesn’t only occur in DEI spaces.
Denisha believes teachers need to participate in training in order to rethink what it means to be an educator in a classroom. One crucial step for her is taking time to reflect on the impact educators have on students’ lives. Similarly, Lily adds that educators need to ask themselves “Am I ready to be uncomfortable?” and be willing to initiate these conversations in classrooms in order to listen to student experiences, learn from them, and learn how to be an ally.
Rena has found that educators who are uncomfortable in these conversations “tend to call on students that fit what they’re talking about” such as teachers calling on Black students when talking about Black Lives Matter. “It makes students feel like you just see them as their stereotypes… make sure that they don’t feel like they have to say something, or that they have to teach the class,” Rena said. In addition, she added that having these conversations in class helps students see that their teachers value what they have to say and are willing to grow.
Here are a few other requests from students:
- Yubi: When students have these conversations, schools should implement the changes they would like to see. Schools should put their students first.
- Ivy: Teachers should recognize who and what is missing from the curriculum.
- Zana: Teachers should hold actual conversations around race in classrooms rather than letting movies and videos do the talking.
Watch the full LEVinar recording here (closed captioning is available in English and Spanish).
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