In July 2018, HEROS put forth eight recommendations to the leadership of New Trier High School. The following suggestions are the fruit of many voices and experiences, including parents, teachers, social workers, community members, middle- and high school students, from a range of racial, cultural, religious and economic backgrounds. Consider these recommendations a framework for continued dialogue and action, coalition-building and positive change in our schools:
1. Meet Regularly with Students and Parents of Color, Concerned Parents and Alumni:
Superintendent Paul Sally and Assistant Superintendent Timothy Hayes have taken the leadership initiative in meeting with black students and their parents in the wake of recent acts of racism. It is important to acknowledge these preliminary steps and make them part of the institutional workings of New Trier. Regular check-ins and open lines of communication between parents, students, teachers, alumni and administrators are crucial. Ignoring racism does not make it disappear. It only makes it harder to eradicate. Regular meetings between the Black Student Alliance, the African-American Club and school administrators is an essential practice and should not be reserved for moments of crisis. In addition, we’d like to have regular monthly meetings between the administration and our group (HEROS) consisting of parents, students, alumni and community members to ensure these concerns are being addressed in a timely manner.
2. Hire a diverse workforce:
Schools in the North Shore must make a concerted, systematic effort to recruit and retain faculty and staff of color. This would include positions as high level administrators, teachers, support staff, and external contractors. When students’ only interaction with adults of color are those in low-wage jobs who are, unfortunately, not sufficiently valued and respected in our society, it sends a strong signal to students that racialized economic inequality is not only acceptable but natural. This represents part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ that students are learning in school even if it often stands against the overt wishes of teachers and administrators. Thus, in addition to honoring low-wage workers, schools must have a diverse cohort of teachers and upper-level administrators to serve as role models and agents of change for students of all backgrounds.
3. Develop an Anti-Racist Culture and Curriculum:
School curriculum must reflect the rich and varied history of Indigenous Americans, people of African descent, and immigrant communities – to whom we are all connected. Schools must ensure, at a minimum, that every K-12 grade in the North Shore devotes a teaching section each year to African American history in compliance with (and exceeding) Illinois state law 105 ILCS 5/27-20.4. This would mean, at the very least, that:
- All students must be educated, in a historically accurate way, about the legacy of racism and slavery in America as well as the history of Africa before, during, and after the onset of the transatlantic slave trade. According to Professor Donald Earl Collins: “American history is the history of modern racism… There’s nothing anti-patriotic in examining America’s great flaws and failings. Race and American history are inextricably linked; black history and American history are one and the same.”
- Students must also be taught the history of racism and segregation in Chicago – dividing the city into South, West, and North quadrants, with huge disparities in wealth, power, and racial makeup. We must show our students how racist policies are a current reality, not a problem that happens in other places, to other people.
- English and History teachers need to make sure that if the n-word is used in their classroom as part of their course material that a discussion about its use with students take place prior to its introduction into the classroom. The use of the term should be contextualized and used as a pedagogical opportunity to condemn its use in the present and convey its hurtful origins and effects.
4. Fund and Train a Student Bias Response Team:
Each school should encourage and offer course credit for students to create an anti-racist task force and bias response team, trained in restorative justice methods. These student-led efforts can create a groundswell of culture change – ending the normalization of the n-word and fostering positive peer-to-peer interactions:
- For example, a group of students has suggested holding a student-led school assembly, sharing personal stories of bullying, racism, and sexism, while creating a hopeful campaign for justice through the visual arts, music, and drama.
- Clubs and social service to the wider community are other student-led initiatives that could provide greater perspective and meaning to restorative justice work on campus.
5. Implement Restorative Justice:
In light of ongoing racist acts and slurs, students who participate in such behavior and language must apologize and make amends, through a genuine process of restorative justice. School administrators should create both formal and informal spaces for students and faculty to voice their experiences with racism, listen to others, and gain insight. To support this process, teachers and staff must be trained to address racism and other forms of discrimination. The National SEED network (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) is an excellent resource for staff training, leadership development, and community engagement. To ensure effectiveness, each school must hire a trained, full-time restorative justice practitioner. This person will facilitate dialogues, mend broken relationships, and create “truth and reconciliation” forums and procedures. Students who harm the community through acts of racism must make amends and rebuild trust with the people they have harmed. Teachers, administrators, and the wider community must assist students who traffic in racism to repair the damage they have caused – while also encouraging their personal growth and deeper commitment to justice and moral courage.
6. Bring Back Seminar Day:
We must help students reflect on the use of racist slurs and other forms of rejection and abuse based on perceived differences. Researchers have shown that even the unconscious effects of implicit bias and stereotypes can be remedied through reflection and insight (New York Times, Dec 9, 2016). Establishing forums like seminars, assemblies, and informal spaces where students can grapple with solutions to racism and sexism will help raise consciousness and contribute to a school culture of “standing up” for others. To this end, a revitalized Seminar Day would represent a big step forward for the North Shore school systems. It would signal a commitment to marginalized students and reverse the signal sent by canceling Seminar Day that gave a green light to the kind of overt racism we are now experiencing. It must be revitalized and reinstated.
7. Open Access to Resources:
As a long-term goal, school boards on the North Shore must do everything in their power to make their resources accessible to low-income students of color in the Chicagoland area. This includes access to computer labs, after-school tutoring, extra-curricular activities, test prep services, and all other resources that underfunded CPS schools do not enjoy. Creating student and resource exchange programs between North, West, and South Side schools will not only open eyes and touch hearts but provide actual material resources to move the needle, however, slightly towards a more equitable society.
8. Build Affordable Housing:
While all of the steps above should be seen as necessary Band-Aids that will make living in a racist society slightly more bearable, they ultimately do little to change the underlying inequality, social relations, political power dynamics, and economic realities of racism in America. While solving these issues intheir entirety are well beyond the capacity of any school board or local unit of government, it is vital that parents, teachers, administrators, government officials, and community members in the North Shore play some small part in eradicating the long-term structural racism that feeds the kind of everyday racism that our students are experiencing in their schools. Housing discrimination, both in the past and in the present, has done more than perhaps any other factor in perpetuating the unconscionable racial wealth gap in American society while simultaneously ensuring that schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968. A lack of affordable housing effectively denies historically disadvantaged families access to a variety of resources including schools, health care, community programs, etc. School boards in the North Shore must collaborate with local units of government to build and maintain affordable, subsidized housing within district boundaries to increase the economic and racial diversity of students, staff, teachers, and administrators in our schools.
We are convinced that these initial steps can play some small part in building a more equitable world. Creating a safer, more welcoming, and economically accessible environment in the North Shore promises to produce a virtuous circle—one that will ultimately attract more diverse students and faculty to the area. Reaching out to less privileged schools will further help bridge these long-standing racial and economic divides. We are confident that together we will be able to work towards a set of schools where everyone will feel at home.