Drs. Tony de Jesus, Anthony Johnston, and Don Siler of University of St. Joseph recount their intervention in a multiracial high school in crisis. White students had instigated a “game” of addressing Black students as the n-word. We discuss the impact of racialization in the Trump era on white students, students of color, and the school community as well as actual and potential responses by schools.
00:49-03:13 “Name game”: the background
03:14-04:58 The “name game”
04:59-05:30 The intervention
05:31-08:41 Student: “Being white means being seen as racist”
08:42-12:13 Racialized identities/racialization of youth
12:14-13:39 Impact of racialization on school community
13:40-16:46 Obstacles to whites grasping the impact of race-related experiences on Black students
16:47-19:03 Administrators’ and faculty members’ responses
19:04-20:37 The blame game
20:38-23:43 White students who wanted to address the issue
23:44-29:35 The “n-word” and language
29:36-34:08 Applying the lens of ethics
34:09-37:00 Bakhtin, carnival, heteroglossia
37:01-46:30 How can schools respond to racism/racist actions?
Amy H-L: 00:15 I’m Amy Halpern-Laff.
Jon M: 00:16 And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools.
Amy H-L: 00:19 Our guests today, faculty members at the University of St Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, were called upon to intervene at a suburban high school when fights broke out between white and black students. Dr. Anthony de Jesus is an associate professor in the Department of Social Work. Dr. Anthony Johnston and Dr. Don Siler are assistant professors in the Department of Education. Welcome Tony, Tony, and Don.
Tony de J: 00:48 Thank you.
Jon M: 00:49 You worked together on an intervention in a high school focused on something called the “name game.” Would you give us some background on the school, student and faculty demographics?
Tony J: 01:02 Sure, I can do that. So the school itself is located in a predominantly white working class community, a pretty blue collar atmosphere and the population of the town is roughly 70% white, whereas this school is increasingly more students of color as there is changing demographics to the neighborhood and to the town as a result of immigration, as well as having students who are bused into the school from a local urban city. And so the school itself is roughly about 60% white, 40% students of color. So it’s a more diverse school than is surrounding area.
Amy H-L: 01:48 Does anyone else want to comment on that?
Tony de J: 01:52 So we began working with the school, really with the district, around the professional development initiative and were invited by a colleague who had worked with with the district prior. And so when we came, we were working with the leadership of the district that included administrators and the senior leadership of the district around upping professional development in regards to culturally responsive education and equity. And so we had done some training and had some planning meetings with the leadership team. And Tony Johnston and I had delivered a professional development day for all of the faculty of the district around these themes. Shortly thereafter is when there were some incidents really a parallel to the election. So as, as that occurred, there was an increase in white students making provocative statements to students of color that that led to this name game incident.
Amy H-L: 03:14 Tony, what was the name game and what was the context?
Tony J: 03:16 So the context was that this was about two weeks after Charlottesville. And so what happened was at this point school had been in session for about a month and there was a lot of tension and anxiety around the campus, around the school. And one of the, there was a group of students, a group of white students who decided that they would antagonize black students in the school, not by going up to them themselves and doing things, but encouraging other students, other white students who were perhaps susceptible to peer pressure, to go up to black students in the school and to use the “n word” and see what would happen. That was about as far through as they thought about it. And so there was some question marks about how many students were involved, but after our involvement and our research, it seemed like it was quite a lot of students. But there was a group of white students who initially began the events and sort of used their social media resources and phones to encourage other students to behave in this manner. So these white students who are going up to black students, using the word, trying to provoke a response, the vast majority of which, you know, students, black students were angry and they were upset. And eventually it boiled over to the point where there was a fight that occurred in a the cafeteria, followed by about three more fights in the space of that week. And the school contacted us because we had been there about a month earlier doing our trainings and asked us to return to help support them as they tried to heal as a community and try to specifically address the incident and work with the students.
Jon M: 04:59 What forms did your intervention take?
Don S: 05:01 So this is where I was brought into the process. Our original set of interventions were two separate groupings where we had students of color in one group and white students in another group. The goal was to create an environment where there would be more open communication between us and the students and between the students themselves. So that was the first intervention that we undertook and that that had its own distinct results.
Tony J: 05:31 Yah. And it was in that initial intervention, that that first meeting with students, which was a really powerful experience for us and for the students involved, where a student who…I was working with the white students and one of the white students, I went around and we talked about whiteness and we talked about being white. And one white student said that these days being white means being seen as racist, which coming from a, you know, 15 year old or a 16 year old young man was a bit shocking to hear, but it just came off his tongue so naturally. And it was as if he was thinking, “Oh, you know, these days I’m thinking about becoming a lawyer or becoming a doctor.” It was just sort of up in the ether for him to access as he defined his identity and sort of thought about who he was in this world. And other students in the room agreed. And it led to a larger conversation. But what struck us was that we are, you know, our young people are growing up in a time when this is a potential identity trait that they could potentially take up and often feel like they’re being positioned in that way regardless.
Jon M: 06:43 Yeah. Let me, let me follow up on that one. What was your sense of when this student said it and then when the other students said it, were they regarding it as something bad that they didn’t want to be seen as being racist because they didn’t see themselves as racist? Did they see it as, “okay, I’m a racist and that’s what being white means” ? Could, could you get a sense from, and I assume that perhaps the reactions weren’t necessarily all the same, but what did it seem to you that they were meaning when they said that?
Tony J: 07:20 Honestly, it felt a bit matter of fact. I think there was a certain level of defensiveness, a certain level of feeling like they didn’t have any choice. I think part of it, obviously, we’re dealing with the context in which these events occurred. And one thing that was evident for the students was when these events occurred, for many of the white students, they felt a sense of struggle with regards to whose quote unquote side were they supposed to be on because it meant in some cases, these were athletes and these were, you know, a lot of the black kids and the white kids were friends on the sports teams and things like that. And some of the white students felt like, well, am I supposed to be on the side of my friend who’s on the team with me or am I supposed to because of, because I’m white, am I supposed to be on this side over here? And so there was a sense of conflicted allegiances, alliances and students feeling very confused. And I think it was a reflection of just how confusing it is to grow up at this time that we’re living in, especially in the last 10 to 15 years, coming of age in this particular context, which for white students is not something that I think previous generations have had to, to examine and think about, obviously, in the way that other groups of students and students of color have always done. But I think for, for many white students, they’re thinking about it in ways that I know I didn’t have to when I was that age.
Amy H-L: 08:42 Tony, is this what you mean when you’ve used the term racialized identities and the racialization of youth?
Tony J: 08:49 It is related because, you know, Nassir’s work, where that term comes from, racialized identities, is this idea that we are made racial and that the social and cultural and historical context matters. That what it means to be white, maybe now, is perhaps different than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. And how one becomes that is how will they get positioned in different spaces in their lives, whether it be in school or their families or their communities. And that, I think, is much more spoken or recognized or acknowledged in a way that perhaps has not been in the past.
Jon M: 09:27 What is the effect of racialization on an adolescents’ development?
Tony J: 09:32 I’ll let Don speak to it because he was thinking about it a lot in terms of how the black students on the campus were sort of made racial through the different incidents that occurred.
Don S: 09:43 And for the most part, when we had the students separated, number one, one of the primary problems we had was how do you determine which students go into which room? Because you had students who were Latino, you had Asian students, you had biracial students. So even in that context, we got to see some of the complications that go along with the way that students are racialized. But more specifically, we looked at Beverly Daniel Tatum’s work in “Why Do All the Black Students Sit Together?” That redux version to look at, kind of, there is an ongoing sense that development happens the same for everyone, right. Every, every child, every person as they develop, they all go through the same stages, the same periods, the same responses to different stimuli. And what Beverly Tatum does is, she kind of tears that down and looks at the psychology of what’s happening to students of color. So kind of in contrast to what Tony’s group talked about, the students of color group were completely aware. There was no surprise, there was no, “this is not how things are supposed to be.” It wasn’t related to the election per se. This was their reality. So for them, coming of age was related to understanding and acknowledging and knowing the way that their race was going to affect their development and kind of experiencing that. So that’s a point where there’s a divergence and I know online a lot of times we see these anti-racist images that will have two, you know, five year olds hugging each other and one is black and one is white. But it doesn’t necessarily acknowledge the fact that social factors start to act upon these students, so that their development diverges and the way that they’re perceived diverges. So the student of color group acknowledged the fact that the issues, the things that had happened recently, were not new. They were things that were an undercurrent in the school, and this is something that the white students had never necessarily had to face, not not to the same degree. So in that way, the the race of those students, the race of the students in my group, was even more pronounced, but they, it seemed like they were more aware of the possibility of things happening before they happened, as well as the fact that even though they seemed to be quieting, there was still an undercurrent, and that all of that affects the way that they develop in the way that they’re seeing the world.
Amy H-L: 12:14 What is the impact of racialization on the larger school community including like teaching and learning?
Tony J: 12:24 It’s different in different spaces. I think in this particular context, there was an interesting phenomenon at play where the demographics of the school had been changing, and that’s one of the reasons why Tony de Jesus and I came in to begin with, was because there was a sense of we’ve got different students that we used to have and our teachers aren’t necessarily prepared to best serve those students who come from these diverse backgrounds. Some of them were English language learners. And so there was a, there was a tension that we felt amongst the teachers in terms of how they felt about the entire incident at large. There were some teachers who were sort of shocked and upset that it occurred and wanted things to be addressed. But there was also a certain percentage of teachers who kind of felt like, well this is the consequence of when you bring in students from these different backgrounds and different communities that traditionally had not been in the school. So that was also an interesting thing for us to sort of think about and examine were some of the different responses on the part of, on the part of teachers who themselves are part of a larger social and community structure, that that was just, we just felt like there was a lot of interesting parallels between what happened in this tiny literal microcosm and what we were seeing on a national level at that time.
Jon M: 13:40 So, Don was talking about the perspective of the black students and you were just talking, Tony, about some of the reactions among some of the white faculty and students. What are the obstacles to white peers and adults really grasping the visceral impact of race-related or social experiences on black students?
Don S: 14:07 So one thing that was distinct was that there was also a difference in terms of how the black faculty and staff perceived things. Regardless of their actions within the school or their behaviors or what they were contributing to, they acknowledged some of the same things that the black students acknowledged. And I think that the main distinction would be that for the black students and faculty and staff, it’s not something that they can choose to ignore. This is something that’s going to affect them in an existential way. Whereas for people who are from the dominant group, there is a choice that has to be made to acknowledge and see and respond to. And this any dominant group, whether it’s talking about patriarchal, talking racially, any member of a dominant group has to be able to make a choice or needs to be in a position where they make the choice to acknowledge or to engage. And I think that’s really the central distinction that we saw in this study was that the people of color, it was an aspect of their reality that they had no choice but to deal with. Whereas the white folks, it was something that, especially for some of the faculty and staff and even the administration, it was something that some of them did choose to acknowledge and did choose to see. But I think the central distinction is the difference between something being existential and kind of thrust upon you versus it being something that you have an option, you have the privilege to not notice or not respond to.
Tony de J: 15:37 Right. I think just to add to that, so I think one of the challenges in terms of obstacles is that schools are giant institutions of which there are lots of sort of traditions and structures and processes in place that one cannot get away from. And when you’re working in a school, whether it be as a teacher or as an administrator, often your goal is to let’s just have calm, let’s just have peace and quiet. Let’s just have a status quo. And regardless of whether or not that particular status quo serves all students at a certain level, there’s a desire to just have this level of calmness to just get through the year, right. And so one of the things I think that gets in the way from an obstacle standpoint is that for the white administrators and teachers, for some of them, there was a sense of let’s just fix this and go back to the way things were, not noting the fact that that is what enabled the name game to occur to begin with, right. And so I think that’s one of the big obstacles is this desire to kind of get back to that status quo place . And I think for a lot of the students…
Tony de J: 16:47 I want to say that, coming back to the observation Tony made about the student who made the comment that we used in the title of this article, that being white these days means to be racist. Tony was there when when the student made that comment. I only read about it and discussed it with him. But I think that he conveyed this kind of sense of resignation and acceptance, and I think that that also was, with the exception of some of the senior leaders in the district, that also characterized, I think, the response of the overwhelmingly white faculty at the school. And I think that that also speaks to this status quo in terms of when we want to keep things quiet and maintain a status quo that silences and creates conditions that are untenable for students of color. It was faculty and staff of color who also revealed that.
Don S: 18:06 And to be, to be fair, and it’s something that Dr. de Jesus has just mentioned, it was interesting to see that there were administrators who were not only willing to address and acknowledge and accept, but they were kind of at the forefront of the idea of doing some of the work that we’ve been doing with the school. And that a clear cut example of if you’re a member of the dominant group, you have to make a conscious decision. So while there were several people on the faculty, staff and administration who were much more, they saw it as much more of a goal of getting things back to how they needed to be, getting things to be quiet. As Tony said, there were other people who made the choice that they had to do something drastic, they had to shake things up. And some of the work we’ve been doing with them since then has been what you would consider to be not necessarily radical, but definitely more progressive than you would expect in a district like this.
Amy H-L: 19:04 One really striking observation in your report was that black students’ and perhaps black faculty members’ frustration and anger was so pervasive that white community members devalued or even dismissed it. Could you talk about that a little?
Don S: 19:25 So what we saw in the study itself, especially as it pertained to members of the faculty and staff more specifically, was that they kind of, and this is where the portion of the paper that talks about the blame game, this is where they kind of said that the students brought it upon themselves. They created their situation on their own by their presence, by their behavior, by the way that they communicated with each other. So it was kind of a dismissal of the pain that was being caused by what happened in the school and blaming the students themselves. And we saw similar things directly after the physical altercations. The community really did come together to suggest a) that there are no racial issues there and b) that the the students who initiated the violence were the students who had been the victims of the verbal violence, that they were to blame. So we did notice that there was a undercurrent of blaming the black students for creating it. If they hadn’t been there, then none of these things would have happened.
Jon M: 20:38 So going back to, I think that it was Tony Johnston, you had said that some of the white students initially were kind of undecided and conflicted about, you know, how they should be responding. There have obviously been situations in other schools where large numbers of white students have chosen to explicitly ally with black students, Latinx students, students of color, in a sort of a very overtly anti-racist kind of way. I didn’t get the sense that that happened per se here. Were there students who, I know you mentioned one white and one black student, I think on the football team who chose to show a Denzel Washington film. Were there white students who sort of very explicitly made clear that they understood in a deeper sense what was going on?
Tony J: 21:39 I think that there were white students who were very upset about what occurred and very much wanted to try to address the issue, to heal the community, to bring the school to a better place. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as coming at it from a stance of anti-racism or something to that degree because I don’t know that they were necessarily equipped and supported by the context that they were in to do that sort of work. There was not a, you know, generally speaking, there was not a presence of teachers there that could sort of help guide them through that, that, that work. This was a very, you know, again, a very sort of blue collar suburban area. It’s not, you know, a major city. So I don’t think it was a place where there was the potential for that to occur, to begin with. But the intent was certainly present for some of the white students and that, so the incident with regards to the Denzel, we brought students together after we separated. After we met with them as individuals, we brought students together to have a discussion across difference and to talk about moving forward and healing. And the students were really great and they were really open and really sharing. And two of the players are, two of the individuals involved, that were directly involved, also happened to be co-captains on the football team and were very close friends and they, so they shared this Disney sort of version of this from “Remember the Titans” where, you know, Denzel’s, you know, bringing the team together and unifying the team together in this way that is nice and kind of safe. And I think in some ways, similarly to the comment earlier, it was about how do we get back to the sort of status quo place. And I think for some of the white students that did get involved and really wanted to see change happen, it was change for the sake of not necessarily creating a more inclusive place where there was more of a culturally responsive education happening, but really more of a place of “let’s just all get along” kind of atmosphere.
Jon M: 23:44 Speaking of students’ thoughts and so much of this, and you talk about this in what you’ve written, obviously has to do with language and how language is used, who uses it, and what context they use it in. And I’m thinking particularly of the issue around the “n word” and I’m curious how, what did the different students use when you were talking with them or when they were talking among themselves? Both in terms of how the white students were talking and in terms of, of how the black students and Latinx and Asian students were talking. How did they use language?
Don S: 24:26 Well, in, in the group of black students in that first intervention that we had, they were struggling to kind of make clear the argument that it is their word. So they were not equipped with the vocabulary, they were not equipped with theories to be able to explain, you know, the differences between, let’s say, even if you’re talking about the difference between the, the verbal registers, a more intimate register, and being able to use in-group language and in-group terminology. They didn’t have the vocabulary necessary to say that, so they kind of talked around the fact that this is our word. They didn’t go as deep as the idea of reclaiming the word. It was just a word that was meant for them to be used with them. And some of those students acknowledged the fact that they weren’t necessarily comfortable with the use of the word, with the overt use of the word, but it was less because they themselves didn’t like the word and more because they were, they didn’t want other people too grab onto it and use it, but more broadly, the language that that was used in the group with the students of color was intentionally unfettered. So profanity, jokes, metaphors, whatever they felt like using, was allowed an effort for them to feel like they didn’t have to guard themselves. They didn’t have to worry about someone else using something that they said against them.
Tony J: 25:55 I think amongst the white students, they were very careful. I think they were very self conscious about their use of language when I met with them in a way that, you know, may have been more guarded. I do want to say, though, that there’s been sort of an adoption of language, you know, right now in the current context, and this was exhibited by some of the students where what I see is them sort of picking up language that they’re hearing and seeing in social media and using it and trying it on in different spaces. And that’s part of what adolescence is about, right, like sort of trying on different things and seeing what fits and seeing what reactions one gets. And in some ways, I felt like the entire incident to begin with, the name game incident, was an example of them using the language that they saw and not just language but also behavior of our president, when they chose to, you know, sort of hide behind their Twitter accounts in their phones, to provoke others to carry out actions that they themselves might, you know, want to see happen, and to antagonize in that way. And, and the other thing that we saw in some of the students, we saw the interviews with teachers. We arrived there a while after the election. So one thing that we wanted to know was how did the students respond when the election occurred? And one thing that the teachers shared was that there was a very different response between those students who were excited about the results and those who were upset by the results. And for some students who were excited by the results, these were mostly white students, there was a sense of celebration. But it wasn’t like celebration because they were really aware of sort of conservative ideology, foreign policy or economics, right. These are high school kids. It was a sense of like our team won and your team lost, and that was the kind of analysis that was going on for them. And there was a sense of excitement and a sense of, and maybe part of this might’ve been a response to, you know, eight years under Obama, but there was a sense of like, now it’s our turn and sort of framing things in that kind of language and thinking of the world in those ways that are very divisive and problematic. And you know, I think they’re not unfamiliar with language that we hear every time we turn on the news, so students are not immune to these by being in schools. They’re just as susceptible as everyone else. What is the obstacle that I see is that schools are no longer places where students are getting support as they navigate these different identity choices. So historically, we think about an English classroom where you can read a book and talk about that book. And that students are sort of figuring out their own identities as they explore characters in a novel or talking about events that happen in history, in a social studies class as they sort of think about their own current conditions and current context. But we don’t spend enough time in schools doing that anymore because we have to jam so much content in and so much testing and other standardized things, that those aspects of schooling for the adolescent age is, is not what it used to be. And it’s one that I think students are losing out on that kind of support that they need as they develop their identity. And so instead they’re going on social media and they’re going on their computer and they’re typing in the computer, you know, what does it mean to be white? And all of a sudden they’re going down this rabbit hole of the internet. And next thing you know, they’re joining some alt right group. And they don’t even know what that means, right. So this, though, the language is out there, our young people that are using it. We need to support them as they navigate it.
Amy H-L: 29:36 I’d like to look at this through the lens of ethics. John Dewey talks about determining what’s ethical behavior, by its effect on others. By this standard, of course, the name game and other sorts of activities like it are clearly unethical. A number of states have now identified one of the goals of teaching is to help students to make ethical decisions. Do you see the language of ethics as helpful in addressing these sorts of situations?
Don S: 30:13 I mean, I see it as something that could potentially be applied. The problem comes in when, especially in terms of teacher preparation programs, there is a tendency to lean more towards neutral in terms of ethics. And the problem with that, especially if you look at it from a social dominance conversation, that there is that argument would be that there is no neutral, that you have to make some very specific determinations about what is best. So in that way, conversations around ethics become more important, because then you have to talk about all right, what is best for whom and who is defining what best is. So if we look at what’s happening right now, especially between this study and what’s happening in schools right now, then, you know, the idea of ethics being in the schools is kind of anathema to what is happening in schools. As Dr. Johnston just said, if the focus is on standardization, then we know that standardization is not equal across groups. Then that in itself is not an ethical position for us to take. But once again, what we’ve tried to do, after this study and as a part of the ongoing, more longitudinal, component is to look at the ethical part. What should the school be doing in order to not necessarily punish one group and uplift another group, but to make the school into a place where the students feel like their best interests are being considered? So, in that way, we have taken kind of an ethical term in terms of the interventions and the other professional developments that we’ve done since our initial study itself.
Tony de J: 31:57 Yeah. And I would just add, you know, there’s a, there’s a real tension that teachers feel about what they can and cannot say or do right now. You know, that it used to be as a teacher, you wouldn’t necessarily reveal to your students, you know, who you’re going to vote for in an election, for example. And so when we lived in a time that maybe was less polemic and divisive than the one we are currently in, that seems like you can do that and also make the claim to maintaining this notion of ethics. But you know, one of the things that came out in the research from Southern Poverty Law Center, after Trump was elected, was that there was things happening in schools all over the country. You know, one example is kids going up to other kids who were Latino and saying, you know, “You’re going to get deported tomorrow.” And teachers feeling like they couldn’t say anything because they were afraid that they might be infringing on that kid’s family’s political point of view, right. And so when a political point of view involves hate, involves harassment and bullying in these ways, when you try to then as a teacher step in and say, well, you’re not allowed to bully, and then the kid can say, “Well, the the president does it, why can’t I,” that really puts teachers in a difficult spot about knowing what they can and cannot say. And there’s a genuine sense of anxiety around how parents are going to respond if they are people who support some of these ideas. And what I’ve heard repeatedly from teachers is that administrators in schools were not equipped for how to respond to the climate that ensued after the election and did not give guidance about how to help kids navigate these tricky conversations.
Don S: 33:44 And part of the reason that we included Bakhtin’s work in this piece is just because of that. Because, regardless of your political perspective, in terms of how, you know, ethical politics can be or has been, a lot of the, I’ve heard the term said over and over again over the last couple of years, they’re saying the quiet part out loud. And part of the reason that we use Bakhtin’s work around carnival and carnivalesque
Jon M: 34:10 Could you, for our listeners, could you just say a couple of words about Bakhtin for people who may not be familiar with him?
Don S: 34:17 So Bakhtin, in terms of being both a philosopher and a literary theorist, critical literary theorist, the main three points that we took from his work in terms of his examinations of the ways that language is used in literature as well as interactions. So we played around with his ideas of heteroglossia, the dialogic nature of language and the idea of carnival. But it all comes back to what is intended by the use of language, what is the power of language, how is it manipulated, how is it used to both reflect and affect individuals. So what we focused on mostly was heteroglossia, which is the multiple layers that all language has and the fact that when a term is written or uttered, it is kind of filled and undergirded by all of the different ways that word has been used in all of the different meanings that are associated with it. So in this case, we focus mostly on the use of the N-word and the fact that it has all of this history behind it, but that history is perceived differently by different groups and it’s going to have different effects. But the whole carnival argument looks at the idea of the breakdown of social norms with more of a focus on, in the text we talk about the idea of the jester as king, right?
Tony J: 35:48 So it comes from Bakhtin was a Russian literary critic and philosopher and language theorist writing around the same time as a Dewey, actually. And his works have often been looked to as helping us to understand language and how language works, how language shapes our culture, our society. And so the notion of carnival is this idea of when the jester becomes the king, and so everything gets turned on its head. And so there are things that you could say and get elected in a way that you wouldn’t have in what we might think of as a more sane, rational world. And so what gets unleashed in the carnival is a sense of freedom to act on your most basest aspects of yourself. And so that is very much a reflection, I think, of the context in which this occurred. Again, we’re talking a couple of weeks after Charlottesville when these students made this decision to do this. And there was talk from our president about there being good folks on all sides. So we found there to be these interesting parallels in how Bakhtin’s works help us to understand how this type of thing can come to pass.
Jon M: 37:01 So you mentioned basically that, that obviously incidents like this, you know, have been happening all over the country. You mentioned in your article that when you went back after five months, that even though there hadn’t been any further incidents, that student and faculty attitudes didn’t seem to have changed much. But then you also mentioned, I think, that that the school has invited you to stay and to do some radical things that they might not have looked at a few years ago. So in a broad sense, and if you want to talk specifically what you’re doing in that school, but, but just more generally, how can schools address racism and racist actions more effectively in the environment that we’re in now?
Tony de J: 37:48 I’d like to respond to that and come back to Amy’s question around ethics. I didn’t participate in the first two activities of the intervention that Tony and Don led and have talked about. I participated in a final, a debrief session with students. And what I recall was that students, and that was with a diverse group of students, they weren’t separated. But there had been another process, which I don’t think we really talked about too much in terms of the personal experience panel where students of color got to talk about their experiences to faculty and faculty really were able to listen and to hear their experiences. Part of the structure of that constructivist activity is that the audience cannot respond or ask questions. They’re there to listen. I think that those students, as I recall from being part of the student debrief at the end, was that they felt heard in a way that they hadn’t before, you know, and, and that in a different way that would move them towards, at least they were hopeful that they would be moving towards, resolution, with these kinds of processes, with this kind of, these kinds of interventions. And I think that that probably sufficiently quelled the heat that was generated from the initial conflicts in a way that we really weren’t. At least that year, we were not invited to continue to build on those types of interventions. And so I guess in retrospect for me, that even as we have continued to work with the school in the district, the approach that we used to address the, these incidents was not something that was sustainable that year, but certainly worked to restore the calm or the quiet to the day to day life of the school. And I think students valued that and responded to that and requested more, but there wasn’t the opportunity for that to continue, at least that year. And I think we felt some of that tension even as we approached the school around conducting the study. So I guess in this regard, the argument that I’m making is there’s a need for spaces where students with, you know, with the support of thoughtful, skilled adults, can process these tensions and these issues in ways that are productive and enable them to overcome the racialization that is kind of imposed. Because I think that that at the end of the day, the lesson for white students in this regard is that as long as I can become comfortable at being patient and not escalating conflict, when I might be invited to look at my privilege and my behavior regarding my privilege, I’ll be okay, the heat will will reside and the status quo will return. And I think that in one way, that’s certainly what happened that year. But we have this really fascinating case study of a process where I think students were able to be heard and that that certainly led to resolution in the short term. But we certainly had reservations about what it meant over the long term.
Don S: 42:13 And since the initial, especially since this paper was completed, we’ve gone back and done a few things. We’ve met with the upper administration and asked how are you looking to change it and what are you going to do with the people who were reticent to change. Because we looked at change as in what is going to be best for the students, all the students. And how were they going to respond to members of faculty and staff who were not comfortable with that because we acknowledge the fact that if you want to have lasting change, you can’t have people who are constantly fighting against it. So we have gone back in and we had a kind of a community focus with the idea that we’re going to start to effectively change the community, around the district as well as the district itself. So what we started with was a professional development that we did last year and that professional development, we determined that the way to start to engage community and to engage issues around culture, culture being the root, the culture of the district, the culture of schools, the culture of the community is through this culturally responsive pedagogy conversation. That was my session and we also had one of our colleagues come in and do the bafa bafa cultural simulation. So we’re looking at ways to build capacities within the school district, ways that we can actually have the teachers, the faculty, the staff become agents of the change that we’re hoping to embrace. So we gave them some tools. The goal for the next professional development is for them to play a part in showing some of the things that they have done to address the needs of students more broadly to make the school… We had the whole conversation around the difference between something being quote unquote diverse versus being inclusive. Allowing students in is one thing. Making the students feel like they are part of the community and safe and comfortable and building their capacities as well. So we had that first professional development, but like I said, it’s focused on building capacity. Dr. Johnson and I have also been going in to do specific culturally responsive culturally sustaining meetings with individual schools and individual groups of teachers. We’re starting with early grades teachers and English language arts teachers as well as social studies teachers because the district felt like they were the ones who were the most prepared in terms of their content and in terms of their enthusiasm. And obviously, as with any group, we’ve, we’ve met with a couple of folks who maybe weren’t as enthusiastic, but our goal once again is building capacity within the district so that they can go out and start doing the work.
Tony J: 45:09 If I can just add, so one of my favorite Dewey quotes is that what the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely and left unchecked, destroys our democracy. And I think that that quote in many ways reflects what happened in this space. So when we talk about what needs to be done, we need leadership on the part of schools. We need to recognize that this work is ongoing. It’s not a onetime fix and we need to want for all children regardless of what neighborhood they come from, what language they speak, what particular learning needs they might have that we want for them. Just as much as we would want for our own child in a school. I don’t, I hope that, you know, this notion of Dewey’s is something that schools can adopt and take up again. Because I feel like we created such a competitive school space where students are literally coming to school thinking they’ve got to dominate the kid sitting next to them as opposed to this idea of schooling as a place to be a practice laboratory for democracy, which is what, of course, Dewey hoped it would be. So that that is the direction that we need to go in. And we’re going to hope to, you know, address these issues and keep these types of incidents from happening in the future.
Amy H-L: 46:31 That Dewey quote, which is one of my favorites as well, also leads to my final question, which is parents. You’ve mentioned follow up with faculty, with students, but what about the parents?
Tony J: 46:43 So I think there needs to be a dialogue with parents. I think that, you know, one of the things that really is powerful is bringing people together in a space to have dialogue across difference and to really try to find some common ground and think about at the end of the day, what do we want for our students? What do we want for our kids? And I actually think that we have models for that in schools as they currently exist. As a parent myself, I really love going to my son’s sporting events and I feel this sense of solidarity and community that is there in those spaces. Even though they’re these competitive, you know, sports events, there is a sense of like, we’re all rooting for this school to be successful. And I wonder like what would it look like to bring that same sort of approach and mentality to conversations like these and to getting parents and teachers and administrators and students to come together in dialogue and with the end of the day goal being that all students leave schools feeling like they have been in a place that sees them as included, as valued, as recognized. Students often want to talk about school being done to them as opposed to being done for them. So I do think that there is a way to leverage that sense of school spirit that exists and use that as a resource to have these dialogues and bring in families.
Jon M: 48:06 Thank you so much, Dr. Tony de Jesus, Dr. Anthony Johnston and Dr. Don Siler of the University of Saint Joseph.
Amy H-L: 48:17 And, thank you, listeners for joining us. Check out our website for more episodes and articles. We’ve begun to post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them more useful in teacher education classes and workshops. We offer professional development on social emotional learning and ethics in the New York City area. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ethidalschools. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Till next week.