By: Vianyely Frias
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Students express how racism takes a negative toll on their educational and personal lives.
“They used to make fun of my afro features. I really hated myself after that,” said 16-year-old high school student Camila Mora in a conducted interview. And just like Camila, many other students of color go through similar experiences, discriminated against in the same four walls that are supposed to educate them and teach them to be their best selves.
For some students, school is a place where they can enjoy time with their friends while still doing their studies. For other students, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a time where they feel like they are less than everyone else, where they are treated differently for simply being themselves. And this issue needs to be heard. Racial injustices in educational systems are something that occur more than we think. Students shouldn’t be afraid to be themselves because of their cultural backgrounds.
The discrimination that students of color face is something that has been going on for many years with little positive change. In New York City, a place with a large population of people of color, many BIPOC students have faced hard times in school from dealing with this discrimination. In an article from Reuters, it is stated that “the city’s public school system is the country’s largest, with approximately 1 million students, and has long been seen as deeply segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines.” Racism in the big city plays a big role in educational systems—systems that are supposed to motivate students to do good in school and treat them well. The systems have failed them.
On March 6th of this year, a lawsuit was filed by a group of NYC students against the public school system for racism and favorable treatment towards white students. These students were denied entry to good programs that would help them succeed in their later years of school, and were instead assigned to failing institutions. “The lawsuit in state court in Manhattan argues that a ‘rigged system’ begins sorting children academically when they are as young as 4 years old, using criteria that disproportionately benefit more affluent, white students.” (Reuters)
While we may not realize it, racism takes a big toll on the mental health and self-esteem of students of color. It makes it hard for them to find people they can trust and be themselves around. When asked about the effects being treated differently had on her personal life, Mora stated, “I was young and didn’t know what to do, and these were the people I thought were my friends. It was hard because I never felt pretty and would compare myself to other people and I still compare myself to other people to this day because of that. I’ve grown from it but it still affects me to this day.” To some people it might be a small joke on their appearance, but to others, hurtful words can deeply impact someone’s life.
It’s not just other students that discriminate towards students of color, but also some teachers. Instead of being good leaders that students can rely on for help, they contribute to the big issue of racism. “I had an experience where the rules (a dress code) was enforced on me way more than other white students. My teacher would constantly call me out for wearing something that I was not aware was not part of the dress code, especially because other students were doing the same. Rather than feeling offended, I felt angry and confused,” says former high school senior Abigail Cedeño Corporal. Teachers should work to combat the issues and hard times students of color go through, rather than adding to the problem.
Students of color already have a hard time in school being stereotyped and labeled, on top of the racism they are faced with. They deal with many challenges throughout their years of school, more challenges that other students might not because they are not ones of color. The Seattle Times says that, “Racial inequity is baked into the nation’s education system in ways big and small. Black children face the most extreme hurdles to academic success. Within individual classrooms, teachers may mistake a Black preschooler’s chattiness for hyperactivity or bad behavior, instead of recognizing the child’s skillful storytelling abilities.” It is not fair to these students, only trying to be who they are, get misinterpreted for negative things like “bad behavior.”
Although racism and discrimination in educational systems is not something we can really end for good, there are things that students, teachers, and peers can do to control it. High school student Aliana Solorzano says that “schools should work on making a more diverse faculty and educate those who need that skin color should not decide how they want to treat a person.” School is the root of the difficult experiences students of color go through. In order to work towards positive change, we need to start there.
Not just schools, but the education system as a whole has work to do. An article from Observatory states that “participation by the Government, school leaders, teachers, and the education community is also necessary to bring about real change.” By educating teachers and administrators to include all students into their practices, we can move towards combating racism in schools. Schools should also hold assemblies and meetings where open conversations can occur to talk about how racism and discrimination affects students’ lives and how we can do better.
Although change is needed, students shouldn’t have to feel the need to change themselves and who they are to be treated with respect and receive the same treatment as their peers.