Long Road Ahead

Statesman urges social consciousness, stresses importance of empowering minority students.

The recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, on top of the the numerous lives unjustly lost due to police brutality and systemic racism, has propelled the Black Lives Matter movement into mainstream media and public discussion. Floyd’s story acted as an awakening, forcing the world to finally listen to the voices that have long been silenced. 

However, the real question as to why so many of us have allowed ourselves to remain sheltered from such a grim reality still stands. 

In truth, the injustices that the Black Lives Matter movement highlights are institutionalized race issues that have existed since the very founding of our country and, to this day, affect essentially every aspect of our society. Statesman believes that, as a learning institution, Stevenson has a responsibility to proactively educate students about America’s complex history with race and oppression, and how these issues remain deeply entrenched in our nation.

At Stevenson, where Black students are already the minority by an immense margin — according to the 2019 Illinois Report Card, only 2 percent of Stevenson students are Black, compared to 54.9 percent and 31.9 percent white and Asian students it’s all the more important to amplify such voices and ensure that they aren’t drowned out in critical conversations. 

Social media has played an especially critical role in encouraging advocacy by allowing a platform for Americans to share resources and to echo their own personal narratives. However, Stevenson’s initial Instagram statement and email response to the death of George Floyd both failed to explicitly say Black lives matter. It was only when Stevenson faced enormous pushback from the student body that such a change was made, but fundamentally, pressure from the community should never have needed to be a catalyst for this to occur. 

Furthermore, when a Black student reached out to the Stevenson Instagram page and asked them to share a poem she wrote detailing her experiences and struggles of being Black in America, her message became skewed in the process and later deleted after more student backlash. Had Stevenson mended their mistake and re-posted the student’s poem in its entirety, they could have used their platform to go past simple performative activism and truly amplify a minority student’s voice. Statesman believes that such a misunderstanding should have better been used as an anchor for growth and a learning curve to become a better ally to their Black students. 

To simply “have empathy” is not enough. It is essential that Stevenson’s faculty and curricula evolve in learning to recognize and highlight diverse narratives, no matter what uncomfortable truths they may expose about the faults in our society. Avoiding traditionally “taboo” topics such as racism doesn’t absolve the issue; doing so simply makes us complicit in enabling others’ ignorance.

On the other hand, given that such aspects are so integral in a learning environment, Statesman acknowledges Stevenson for being attentive to some of its own weaknesses and taking initiatives in response to such needs. 

For one, the recent “51 percent rule” in the English department — which requires at least 51 percent of books read in class to be by authors of color — is a step in the right direction. By sharing works from writers with an array of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Stevenson’s English curriculum is actively evolving and working to dismantle the Euro-centric perspective, which views the world based on Western values and lenses, that had historically been conditioned and normalized.

Furthermore, the implementation of an extensive Equity Race Diversity program for teachers aims to better equip faculty in fostering an inclusive learning setting as well as promote discussion of said social issues. In the recent wake of the resignation of a Stevenson dean following accusations of racially profiling a student, Statesman believes that such training and re-evaluation of any implicit biases that faculty members may hold is all the more imperative.

Still, Stevenon’s overwhelmingly white faculty — with 91.6 percent of staff being white compared to 0.7 percent Black, per the 2019 Illinois Report Card — cannot be ignored. The value of having teachers and administrators that are not just representative of, but perhaps even more diverse than the student body, plays a crucial role in both having minority students feel as if they are reflected by their teachers while also fostering global citizenship. While demographic changes are likely to be gradual and long-term, Statesman commends Stevenson’s recognition of such an issue and efforts in increasing faculty diversity through hiring. 

Currently, one of the most prominent initiatives that Stevenson has heeded to explicitly address discrimination and racism has been A World of Difference Day for freshman advisories. A World of Difference was instituted with a goal of “helping students recognize bias as well as confront racism and other forms of bigotry,” per the Anti-Defamation League’s website.

However, in order for racism to be truly tackled as the crisis that it is, Statesman believes that a more comprehensive, long term approach at Stevenson is critical in order to address the issue. A World of Difference Day can be helpful in starting the conversation, but Statesman urges Stevenson to take a larger initiative by amplifying minority voices and instilling in freshman advisories the roots and caused of systemic racism and discrimination as well as its adverse effects on our communities today. 

The 46th credit, a graduation requirement which mandates all students demonstrate a certain degree of awareness about substance abuse and its subsequent long term consequences, reflects the administration’s community concern with such obstacles. Statesman urges Stevenson to take action in creating a similar 47th credit mandate in order to address issues regarding racial inequity and oppression. In alignment with Stevenson’s “Portrait of a Graduate” values, Statesman believes that it is essential for all students to demonstrate awareness and understanding of such a public health crisis. 

Ultimately, Statesman stands with our Black students and the Black Lives Matter movement. As a newspaper, we are dedicated to upholding integrity and uplifting the voices of the students and community that we serve. 

We believe that every individual has a civic responsibility to proactively make an effort to educate themselves, just as learning institutions have an accountability to foster more socially conscious generations. Even when the hashtag “#blm” is no longer trending, as allies, we have all the more reason to keep educating, advocating, organizing and protesting, all with a sole purpose in mind: to ensure that the world keeps listening. 

Black Lives Matter – not just now and not just at Stevenson. Black Lives Matter, always and everywhere.