After George Floyd’s death, the Weston community began speaking up more about the issue of racism. The Instagram account @pocatweston, through which former and present Weston students of color submitted accounts of racism, shed light on many racial problems in the school district. As a result, the Weston Public Schools administratration vowed to take steps toward creating an antiracist culture and curriculum.
Despite efforts to increase accountability on diversity and inclusion, many students of color report that they do not feel the intended effects echoing into the WHS hallways. This standstill in progress can be heavily attributed to the disconnect between students and the administration.
When I asked administrators about Weston’s efforts toward creating an anti-racist school district, I heard confidence that Weston is making critical progress. From posters representing diverse backgrounds in the hallways to a new professional development program for faculty and staff, principal Paul Peri explained the many actions the high school is taking in the right direction.
“There really is a considerable amount of work happening district-wide, from district improvement plans to school improvement plans to building levels,” Peri explained. “We [Weston] are working to teach a wide array of authors, influences, and figures, and to showcase people of all walks of life in our classrooms.
I was surprised about the unprecedented headway that Peri feels has been made. The high school faculty and staff are engaging in a book study called “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain” in an effort to reexamine Weston’s instruction for students with awareness of their diverse cultural backgrounds. Peri also expressed excitement about an outside organization called Ideas working with the administration to look at race through an educator lens. Through Ideas, all teachers are expected to take a class on being an anti-racist educator within their first three years of employment at Weston.
Despite these many initiatives, the benefits of these changes are yet to be felt by the student body, and not all students believe that these efforts are having significant positive effects. Senior Ishika Bharath, a Southeast Asian-American student, feels that the administration is, in fact, falling short.
“I think it [awareness of racism] has definitely gotten better within the last year or so, but not as far as I would have hoped,” Bharath said. “There is still a lot within the student body that needs to be addressed before the school can be a safe place for students of color.”
Based on conversations with students like Bharath and on reviewing the posts on @pocatweston, it is clear that many students have experienced and continue to face microaggressions from students and even from faculty, and many also question whether students are truly willing to learn about inclusivity and about cultures different from their own.
Sophomore Annie Dong believes Weston needs more cultural celebrations and education. “I would like to see more than just a single assembly during Black History Month or AAPI Heritage Month,” Dong said. “I want to see the school supporting students of color more.”
With both students and the administration sharing a common goal, why has there been such a standstill in progress? The answer: the disconnect between students and faculty when working toward solutions.
While there has been interaction between the administration and key stakeholders such as the Asian Student Union and the Black Student Union, the majority of students of color do not interact with the administration and therefore do not have their experiences voiced.
Changes in curriculum and teaching regarding inclusivity and antiracism is critical, but difficult to see as a student. Improvements may not be clearly transmitted to students as intentional or appear to be a facade. Students are not informed enough about the administration’s work behind the scenes to increase teachers’ ability to address racism in their classes. Additionally, students are more directly impacted by the cultural and social aspect of race. Advancement in this area needs to come from interaction between students and the administration.
Peri has one proposal to try to improve this situation.
“We have to give our students the microphone to tell us about their own experiences and where they want to see change,” Peri stressed. He emphasized the importance of nurturing relationships and trust between faculty and students.
The important thing to remember is that holding the microphone can be difficult. It is critical for change, but it is also a privilege to be in the audience instead of presenting yourself. For Weston to make a breakthrough in this standstill of progress, both students and faculty must work so that holding the microphone leads to tangible outcomes.
It must also be safe for students to speak up. Students should not have to risk negative peer response or the possibility of sacrificing social acceptance. It drives students of color away from teaching us their perspectives and stories.
A key community affected by these issues is the METCO program. METCO director La Toya
Rivers recognizes both the progress made and the room to improve.
“The district has worked to build in more opportunities to listen to more voices, and I think they need to continue to do that as it is a continuous area of growth. It’s what I would call a journey and not a destination,” Rivers said. “If you want to get better at anything, or even maintain a level of excellence, you need to constantly re-evaluate and assess where you are and where you want to be.”
With increased communication between students and faculty on antiracism, both sides will feel more secure and informed about progress.
“I’d love to get more students at the microphone to lead the charge,” Peri said. “My door is always open.”