“I’m tired of talking to adults and nothing happens, nothing changes. It feels like they are just checking a box.” Take a moment, please, and imagine the context. Can you think of a few? I can. I can.
I have not written here for awhile. My mind and heart have been very full over the past few months for many, many reasons, so much so that I just couldn’t let anything dribble out in the form of writing. But something happened today that made the dam burst, and here we are.
Today, I had the honor of attending my first meeting of the Illinois Coalition of Educational Equity Leaders (ICEEL). This group of teachers and administrators gathers together a few times a year to consider matters of equity. From this, my first meeting, it seems to me that the focus is equal parts reflection, learning, and call to action. Without question, I received opportunities for all three today.
I’ve had many reasons to reflect upon concepts of racism and equity over the past twelve months. Last December, my husband and I had a difficult and emotional conversation with our young adult daughter around a white comedian using the N-word in context of humor and intentional social commentary. She was incensed, a lot. I reflected. A related topic was discussed today, and I was lead to watch this short video of Ta-Nehisi Coates explaining that it is indeed white privilege to believe that all words belong to everyone. (Spoiler Alert: they don’t.)
In January, I accepted a job for the next school year in a district that has created a Diversity Policy, along with a host of other statements, brochures, posters, and guiding principles that speak to topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I rejoiced in the knowledge that I would be working in the right place, a place where I could lead and learn and daily consider topics of social justice.
In July, I read the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, followed by attending a two day training in Courageous Conversations about Race. It’s not possible to express here the extent to which these experiences affected me, except to say that they humbled me and helped me understand that I did not know what I did not know. And so I have continued to study this fall, learning from several other books, workshops, and meetings. I’ve been particularly grateful to be a part of my school district’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, as it is filled with parents, teachers, and administrators who are eager to continue on a journey of self-discovery and to grapple with issues of equity in order make important change for students, families, and employees.
This brings us to today, to the ICEEL meeting. Attorney Jackie Wernz taught us about equity issues in relation to the new Illinois law requiring school districts to teach about LGBTQ history, and then in small groups we discussed practices and policies that support equity, or, more often, inequity. Truly, there is so much to do.
And finally, more dramatically, there was a call to action which came in the form of five high school students. Each ICEEL meeting ends with a student panel so that educational leaders can hear about the real impact of what they are doing (or not doing). Today, a Muslim student explained that it is not enough for a school to have a place for daily prayer if a student requests it – true respect comes in the form of being offered a place to pray. Latinex and Chinese students spoke about assumptions that are made about them due to their racial backgrounds. And an African American student, enraged that her district has taken steps to combat racism in the school by providing a four day “N-Word Curriculum”, saw through and past the positive intent around that decision with the statement, “We don’t need four days of discussion. We need four years!” Oh. It is hard to argue against that point.
This same student told us that “adults need to listen to our solutions, not just our feelings.” But she began where I began: “I’m tired of talking to adults and nothing happens, nothing changes. It feels like they are just checking a box.”
I asked these students if any of them are writers (some very clearly are), and wondered aloud if they are blogging. I suggested that the adults who appear not to be listening may need chances to listen and read and think. I didn’t imagine that they would be writing publicly; making themselves vulnerable in front of this group of adults who may not be moving quickly enough but are clearly passionate about equity is not the same thing as exposing themselves to their peers and the angry world at large. But I wanted them to be thinking about it. Their responses to my questions were thoughtful; one put it like this: “I can’t narrate my experiences while I’m living them.” So anyway, I’m blogging for them, now. I had a chance to speak with three of the students after the meeting, and one of them told me that she is writing about her experiences with racism in her college essay. She promised to send it to me. Oh, I hope that she does so that I can continue learning from her.
As I discussed with the students, the adults in the room who are learning about equity and are eager to make changes are indeed on a journey, and adult learning takes time. Change takes time. But these students don’t have time. Their now is NOW. There is so much to do. We cannot be just checking a box.