Are We Listening?
April 26, 2016
Last spring, in an attempt to engage students in a school-wide discussion about diversity, students were grouped together and encouraged to share their stories with each other. After this school-wide discussion, the administration put together a task force made up of faculty, staff, parents, and students. “The whole idea of the task force was focused on diversity, including how to make BSM a safer space for people of all backgrounds, not just regarding skin color,” junior and student representative on the task force Zip Kaffey said.
This task force came up with several questions to guide how BSM should continue on their path to becoming more welcoming. “From [these questions] we need to identify what the next steps are and what this means practically speaking,” senior high principal Dr. Susan Skinner said.
As BSM moves from discussion to action on these important topics, the school is developing a plan. “Our next step would be to develop a cohesive plan that expands across the system with the goal of helping all of our students, all of our faculty, all of our staff, all of our parents feel welcome at BSM. Our sense of community is our strength, so it is only natural that this should be one of our priorities. ‘How can we be more inclusive’ is a good question for us to ask,” Skinner said.
In an effort to connect more with all students, this year five faculty and staff members received a certificate from St. Mary’s University in Culturally Responsive Teaching: Director of Service Learning and Social Justice Ms. Lisa Lenhart-Murphy, theology teacher Ms. Becca Meagher, art teacher Mr. Zach Zimny, and English teachers Ms. Kari Koshiol and Ms. Callianne Olson. The program involved evaluating the classes they teach and seeing how the classes could be made more culturally responsive.
As a result of her time learning about Culturally Responsive Teaching, Lenhart-Murphy proposed that she be in charge of increasing equity and inclusion in the school. “I want to take on the equity and inclusion piece: how we train teachers about equity and inclusion and multicultural education, and how multicultural education is infused into the classroom,” Lenhart-Murphy said.
Lenhart-Murphy personally believes that encouraging teachers and students to have real, difficult discussions will be a large part of creating a more culturally welcoming community. “Conversations about equity, social justice, race, and gender can make people really nervous because they don’t want to offend or say the wrong thing, but Courageous Conversation teaches how to have those conversations in a respectful and enlightening way. We want teachers and students to ask hard questions and learn from each other’s experiences,” Lenhart-Murphy said.
With an eye towards equity and inclusion, English teacher Ms. Paula Leider has filled her syllabus with representation from as many backgrounds as possible. “I wanted to focus on the immigrant voice, the Native American voice, and the African American voice. I worked hard not to privilege the white voice,” Leider said.
Leider believes that when you have the ability to teach about experiences different from those most students have had, it is important to integrate that into the classroom. “The whole point of teaching English is to help students understand the human experience. That’s what writing is about: helping us understand what it means to be a human being. We cannot do that if we are not looking at all the voices,” Leider said.
In addition to the English classes, the Social Studies department works diligently to include as many perspectives as possible. Studying different cultures in the classroom brings diversity to the forefront. “We know the textbooks and prior coverage of history haven’t consistently been very ‘colorful,’ so we try to connect where we are now, as a society, to decisions or efforts of more than just white people,” social studies teacher Ms. Megan Kern said.
Asking for More
The all-school discussion last spring was an attempt to engage students, but students may not have been ready or willing to listen. “Some students took it more seriously than others. The school didn’t say specifically what to do, so some students forgot about it, and some, mostly those who the issue is important to, didn’t,” senior Evan Weatherly said.
BSM has been vigilant in responding to tension among students when it comes to the issue of race. However, most students agree that reacting to racism after the fact isn’t sufficient. “The school needs to work on actually solving the issue of racism instead of just addressing it,” sophomore Nick Jonsrud said.
And while the school has reached out and provided chances for students to learn more about the issue, some students believe there are opportunities for improvement. “Awareness is easy and can be done every day, but nothing can be solved until there is discussion,” Weatherly said.
“You need to attack the situation head on, that’s the only way to stop it,” Jonsrud said. He believes the way to do that is by creating a comprehensive class about the history and effects of racism.
A large element of the Immigrant Literature class is talking about people’s experiences immigrating to this country and how they have felt as a minority in America. It addresses how important listening to the opinions and experiences of others is, which helps to create a better environment for listening at BSM. “It has taught me a lot more about how to be a more insightful person and how to be respectful. Nothing is sugar-coated like it is when other classes address issues like immigration. It’s really forced our class to have true discussions,” junior Elizabeth Kupchella said.
However, the class doesn’t fix all the problems. “There isn’t a true right answer. This class is a great start, but I’m not sure where it will go from here or how to bring it to other classes,” junior Mark Racchini said.
Encouraging diversity and fighting against racism is a constant effort. Becoming a more welcoming environment for all students requires frequent conversation surrounding the issue. No matter how difficult it is to fix the issues within our community, it is imperative that we hold each other accountable and give the cause the energy it deserves. “It needs to be a continual effort. The more we talk about it the further we will get,” Kaffey said.