A Banner Doesn’t Stop Discrimination

Front hallway sign misses the mark

A screenshot from the @westjags Instagram showcasing the banner

A screenshot from the @westjags Instagram showcasing the banner

Aminah Syed, Editor-In-Chief (2021-22)

On March 22, I was approached by a staff member after school while talking to my friend in the hallway.
The teacher asked me how I liked the new banner. The sign in question sits in the south hallway across from the windows on the way to the Commons. It displays cultural and religious holidays students may observe throughout the calendar year.

The teacher gave me a series of response options: thumbs up, in the middle, and thumbs down. After pausing for a moment to decide if I should be honest or tell them what they wanted to hear, I decided to be honest. I shared that I believed it was not the thing that BV West needed right now to fix the issue. My opinion is the issue of racial and cultural disparities is more of a district-wide issue, not a high school-specific issue. Individual high schools alone attempting to fix the problem with poorly designed posters does not do much.

My example was that two days of teacher development fall right after Easter Sunday. This “coincidence” gives the appearance that Blue Valley is observing the Christian holiday by not having school on the Catholic holy day of “Easter Monday.” Meanwhile, the district has an ever-growing Muslim population. The month-long fasting of Ramadan ends on May 2. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to schedule the second teacher development day on Monday, May 2, so Muslim students could celebrate Eid al-Fitr? Christian students get a four-day weekend, while Muslim students have to either miss school or forego the celebration of one of their most observed holidays.

If the district wants to appear more sensitive to the growing percentage of Muslim students, consideration would be reflected on the school calendar. Recognition would give a large portion of families the impression that Blue Valley “walks their inclusion talk.” Posters in the hallway without any action? Not so much.

The staff member proceeded to say that they had worked on the banner for two years and was heartbroken by my response and walked away. They did not acknowledge my opinion or feelings. Ironically, everything they attempted to do with their banner now reeked of self-aggrandizement instead of an act of inclusion.

This is what took two years? The countless stories of students being impacted by racism from peers and ignorance from staff, and the answer is a big poster? The impact of racial discrimination, bullying, and ignorance harms children throughout the district. And this teacher wants praise for a poster?

While the action seems like a nice gesture, it feels performative. Creating a banner full of celebrations and then not advocating for the school district to find ways to celebrate each of the holidays listed is indeed a gesture, not action. The lack of true acknowledgment makes it feel like the display of these cultural holidays in the front hallway for maximum visibility uses students as tokens of diversity, not the reflection of the cornerstone of family.

On April 6, 2021, I interviewed the former principal, Dr. Brett Potts. I was researching the rising incidents of hate towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders individuals within our country and school His response:
“As a staff, we have been engaging in work and professional learning around diversity, equity, and inclusion for over two years,” said Potts. “Our plans are to expand this work into our student body [in the fall of 2021].

It was heartening to hear that the adults were working on some of the issues plaguing students of color: hijabs being ripped off of students’ heads, a teacher using the “n” word, students afraid to give their opinions regarding race or COVID-19. It felt promising.

Putting up a banner and checking off the notion that racism and discrimination are solved is equivalent to putting a bandaid on a broken arm. Let’s get student input and have teachers and administrators address instances of discrimination and ameliorate them. It seems the issue is discussed only when it is trending on social media.
BV West is not responsible for the policies at the district level, and all schools consist of the same inclusion statement. Saying that these schools are safe and inclusive learning communities committed to providing everyone with a safe and supportive school environment for ALL individuals is disproven repeatedly.

At the end of the day, using one school’s diverse student body’s valued holidays as a token for performative action is disappointing. Rather than showing words on a banner, why not create a curriculum to teach about those holidays and the diverse experiences of our students? Undoubtedly, the 1,100 plus comments made on your social media posts in 2020 (some of which were deleted) gave ideas on how to improve and implement proper representation in this multicultural district.