Pitch Opinion: Equity 365 isn’t enough

A+walkway+over+highway+495+was+vandalized+as+multiple+messages+of+white+nationalism.+The+people+who+spray+painted+the+bridge+are+proclaiming+themselves+as+%E2%80%98patriots%E2%80%99.%0A

Photo courtesy of Alex Chang

A walkway over highway 495 was vandalized as multiple messages of white nationalism. The people who spray painted the bridge are proclaiming themselves as ‘patriots’.

Last week the WJ community was once again faced with the reality that racism, homophobia and other bigotry is still at large. The school building and surrounding areas were defaced with messages supporting white supremacy and anti-LGBTQ sentiments. Since then, we have gotten emails (clearly without spell check) and assurances that an investigation is underway… doesn’t that sound familiar?

If you have been at WJ for even a year, then you will know that various disgusting, hateful acts are committed on a regular basis. What some people, especially those not directly targeted, seem to forget is that the hate and discrimination is always there; however, the administration only has to deal with it from time to time – whenever it becomes public. We know something’s very wrong, regardless of skin color, sexuality or ethnicity, when “protecting the student body” is quite evidently just about protecting the school’s image.

Despite countless threats to the WJ community and surrounding county, the administration never seemed to go beyond sending out an email full of meaningless fluff such as noting their “deep concern” and how they want to “build a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment where all students can thrive.” Slideshows in social studies classes for students to “reflect” and half-assed announcements during the last bell of the day won’t cut it. Our safety cannot be an afterthought.

Principal Jennifer Baker came into the leadership class and gave a 20-minute lecture on the “Devious Lick” Tik Tok challenge, asking students to help end the chaos that it had created. This challenge resulted in bathrooms getting sprayed with Kool-Aid and school property being stolen. Baker has yet to return to the leadership class to discuss ways to combat the racism and homophobia that was displayed on October 2. Evidently, the mess of Kool-Aid and stolen hand sanitizer must be of more concern to the administration than hate crimes.

If Baker really wants WJ to “stand up” then maybe she should set a better example. Progress starts with having difficult but necessary conversations and these discussions are simply not being had. This leads us to one conclusion: the admin cares more about protecting school property than protecting students. If this is not the case, then we hope the admin will prove us wrong.

Despite this disappointing, but sadly not surprising, lack of action, many students have taken matters into their own hands. The hard work of societies like the Black Student Union, Me Too MoCo, WJ Immigration Advocacy and Uplift WJ (previously Fed Up WJ) has led to some encouraging changes. Through club meetings and Town Halls, these groups have gotten the opportunity to elevate students of diverse backgrounds to a platform where they can be heard. And while we can all be very proud of them, unfortunately, this is about as far as they can get without help from the school board or at least the WJ administration.

You might be thinking “what about Equity 365?” and to that, all we have to say is that a few naive bullet points on the back of a t-shirt aren’t going to change anything. Ultimately Equity 365 is all talk no action – at least, students haven’t noticed any changes, and isn’t this supposed to be about the student body? Has anyone felt any improvement in our school since Baker started wearing that green shirt? Equity 365 was Baker’s idea to create a “utopian WJ”, but utopias don’t exist, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is the lack of accountability and the nonexistent consequences for staff and students who clearly allow hate and bias to dictate their actions. Granted, some of admin’s ideas, like Equity 365 and Study Circles, are steps in the right direction, but when there’s nothing concrete to show for it the efforts are in vain.

The MCPS Employee Code of Conduct states that “all employees must make every effort to create and maintain safe and healthy learning environments for all of our students. All employees are expected to interact with all students… with the utmost integrity and professionalism.” When students feel discriminated against due to their teacher’s biases, their admin’s attempt to silence their voices, or any other staff member’s actions, this code is broken.

The Student’s Guide to Rights and Responsibilities defines discrimination as “hate, violence, insensitivity, disrespect, or retaliation—such as verbal abuse, harassment, slurs, threats, physical violence, vandalism, or destruction of property—that impede or affect the learning or work environment.” So how come students, white students, who casually use the N-word in the halls don’t face any consequences? That’s something that needs to change. Enforce consequences, for both students AND teachers, to make it clear that “these actions will not be tolerated” and that “students involved will receive disciplinary consequences…” as Baker put it in her email on October 3.

The idea of Equity 365 is great and all, but we are in need of more than an idea. We need action. We need meaningful action that will truly spark change within the community. Admin shouldn’t have waited a week to address the vandalism. On the following Monday, we should have been sat in the auditorium and made to face the realities of our discriminatory society. Baker should’ve made an announcement during the first period and not at the end of the day. There should’ve been a presentation given by a qualified professional in every class (ie. a person of color and/or an anti-hate advocate). There were much better ways to handle this situation, ways that involved more than performative activism and flowery words. Of course, no one can expect a miraculous change overnight, but fewer hate crimes would be nice. The huge disconnect between Baker’s utopian claims and the actions of the administration just goes to show how they aren’t taking concrete steps to address these issues.

In the video presented in every social studies class last Friday, Baker spoke about her pride for WJ students speaking out about the incident and spreading “love and positivity.” Great. Awesome. Hypocritical. Last Thursday there was a meeting of the aforementioned clubs in the Student Commons where Admin staff and security pulled closed the curtains and refused to let students present their slideshow because it was critical of the administration. How can the student body believe anything Baker and other staff tell them when their actions truly do speak louder than their words?

Admin made an attempt to rectify their recent mistakes when they called a meeting of several advocacy clubs on Monday. Baker and other administrators listened to the concerns of the students present and appeared to be receptive, even allowing clubs to plan a walkout. This is a good example of action and the admin can be commended for this step in the right direction. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but students are certainly hopeful for the future. Unfortunately none of this changes past inaction and failure to enforce a “positive and healthy learning environment.”

So, there you have it. Outlined above are just a few of the issues facing WJ today. It will take a lot of work and a long time to make substantial headway, but it has to start somewhere. Without the cooperation of staff and students alike, people are going to continue to suffer. We need to make a conscious effort to combat the hate spread by angry, ignorant, misguided people. So, admin, it’s your turn. Step up to the plate and show us what you’ve got.

6
0