Support for minorities: Is South doing enough?

by Libby Chalamish, Opinions Reporter

Among the countless emails detailing new COVID-19 protocols and updates about transitioning to the hybrid learning model, a new one reminding students about the upcoming Black Culture webinar caught my eye. I was excited at first, thinking that South was following through on their promise to work towards recognizing diversity and increasing awareness about racism and its effects. To my disappointment, however, I found that this webinar, like many others, was optional and during class time.  

Following this summer, when the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement spurred a conversation about the systemic racism in our society, South vowed to increase its support for minority groups and promote equality for all. Although our school has taken many steps in the right direction to establish a more anti-racist curriculum, there is still significant work to be done to provide true support for all students of minority groups. 

Numerous departments have advocated for the inclusion of more diverse lessons, resulting in a number of positive changes to the curriculum. The English department in particular has made significant efforts to integrate anti-racist work into classes. This year, the books taught to ninth graders are written by people of color, with titles including ‘The House on Mango Street’ by Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros, ‘When The Emperor Was Divine’ by Japanese-American author Julie Otsuka and ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by civil rights activist and author Maya Angelou. Many English teachers have been open to feedback as well, providing multiple opportunities for students to express their opinions through online forms. 

Likewise, the history curriculum has seen similar changes, with teachers setting aside time to discuss important current events and teach about historical figures of color. Personally, these efforts have helped educate me, and further changes like these are crucial.

South has also made an effort to increase racial awareness through the South Human Rights Council (SHRC), a body of students, administrators and teachers focused on combating racism and fighting for human rights. The council reaches students through Schoology updates addressing discrimination, as well as virtual lunches, which provide students with a safe space to discuss incidents of overt racism in the community. These lunches often include discussions about current events such as the Capitol Riots and the shooting in Atlanta. These attempts have been beneficial to educate and reach out to students, and I hope that South continues to take steps in this direction.  

While the effort South made to organize webinars is admirable, their lack of accessibility makes it difficult for students to attend. Throughout the year, the school has advertised educational webinars, including LGBTQIA+, Black Culture, Holocaust Remeberence and Jewish culture and Asian-American Pacific Islander Appreciation day webinars. These webinars contained important information; however, they were held either during class time or flex block and required a teacher’s permission. They are exceedingly helpful for students to diversify their perspective, so it is crucial for South to find ways to ensure students these opportunities to listen. In order to help educate both students and staff, the school should continue hosting these webinars and schedule them at more convenient times.  

Although the English and history departments have seen positive changes to their curriculum, it seems that not all STEM classes have yet incorporated anti-racism into their lessons. While I recognize that it is harder to integrate such topics in these classes, it is vital that they take the extra step to ensure that every student feels comfortable discussing these events in every class. 

All math and science teachers can and should educate students on several anti-racist topics, including racism in STEM, the disadvantages and discrimination faced by Black scientists and mathematicians, racism in our systems of medicine and more. It is also important to learn about scientists of color and their positive impact in the field. 

Of course, there are many STEM teachers who do so, with biology teachers arranging a variety of activities that teach about gender disparities and BIPOC scientists and stats teachers showing the statistics of systemic racism. Every teacher has a responsibility to promote anti-racism, and South must ensure that this is happening. 

South has taken numerous steps to increase awareness about the struggles faced by minority groups, but the fight is not over yet. It may feel more comfortable to ignore the world’s injustices and be content in ignorance of one’s position of privilege, but it is vital for people to educate themselves so that greater changes can be made to strive for a society that treats everyone equally.