Racial Awareness class garners mixed reactions from sophomore students

Students+in+the+new+Racial+Awareness+class+listen+to+a+lecture+by+their+teacher%2C+Malcolm+Cawthorne.+The+class+is+offered+solely+to+sophomores+Tuesdays+and+Thursdays+during+z-block.

Sam Klein / Photographer

Students in the new Racial Awareness class listen to a lecture by their teacher, Malcolm Cawthorne. The class is offered solely to sophomores Tuesdays and Thursdays during z-block.

Valentina Rojas, Writing Editor

Juniors and seniors are offered a multitude of classes centered around diversity, but many of these classes do not solely center on race conversations and they are not offered to underclassmen. However, this year there is a new option available for underclassmen interested in discussing racial issues.

History teachers Malcolm Cawthorne, who identifies as a person of color, and Kathryn Leslie, who identifies as White, have piloted a new course called Racial Awareness. The class is offered solely to sophomores Tuesdays and Thursdays during Z-block.

Some students in Racial Awareness said they felt uncomfortable when faced with the challenges of the class, but they realize it is for their own benefit. Sophomore Sophie Arnstein, who identifies as White, said that she made an uneasy realization about White privilege because of the class.

“I learned that when you’re part of the majority it’s really easy to take things for granted and not realize what you have,” Arnstein said. “This class especially has helped me see that we have to realize that we [Whites] do have privilege.”

Cawthorne said that he came up with the idea for the class two years ago after he took a course then called Empowering Multicultural Initiatives, which challenged teachers to take a look at their schools and find a way to tackle the problem of racial awareness.

According to Leslie, there are no other classes that center around racial awareness conversations.

“African American Studies is historical. African American and Latino Scholars Programs is empowering within scholars so that students know their own history. Social justice has one unit of racism,” Leslie said. “But there’s not anything that’s a personal look at thinking about one’s own racial identity and how that impacts anyone.”

Sophomore Lena Harris, a student in the class, said she had trouble with being made to identify as either White or Black when they split off into groups by race, as she identifies as biracial.

“I had a tough time being engaged in class after [splitting into affinity groups] because I had in my mind, ‘Wow I’m both and they’re asking me to choose a side of my identity,’” Harris said. “But then I thought of it in a broader view and realized that the world is going to view me as either White or Black and biracial recognition is not going to always be like this so I got through it.”

Leslie said she noticed students were wrestling with the affinity groups.

“Splitting students based on how a student racially identifies can be really challenging,” Leslie said. “It can feel like we’re trying to extentuate differences or we’re trying to box students in and I think if you asked Mr. Cawthorne or me, that’s not our intention. Instead, it’s a realization that students need different things. They need to process different things at different speeds and they’re learning about race and racism.”

History teacher Malcolm Cawthorne, who identifies as a person of color, teaches the new Racial Awareness class. History teacher Kathryn Leslie, who identifies as White, also teaches the class.
Sam Klein / Photographer
History teacher Malcolm Cawthorne, who identifies as a person of color, teaches the new Racial Awareness class. History teacher Kathryn Leslie, who identifies as White, also teaches the class.

Sophomore Anthony Saunders, who identifies as Black and also takes the course, said he has found the general student body to not know as much about race and racism.

“I feel like we’re not doing enough,” Saunders said. “I talk to the kids that are in the class about racial awareness and when I bring it up to somebody that is not in the class they don’t know anything about it.”

According to Harris, making the racial awareness class a graduation requirement at the high school is a great idea so that everyone feels like they know enough to engage in race-related conversations.

“The class is so useful for students who don’t know anything about race,” Harris said. “We strive to be diverse but there are students who don’t go to the talks and conversations so it would be good for them to have to participate to help educate them on race topics.”

Leslie said that the broader goal for the class is to create a group of students who will be able and willing to lead conversations around race in the future.

“The students, through this racial awareness class, are going to be much more pinned to be able to be facilitators of conversation around race,” Leslie said. “They are students from many backgrounds who can be more comfortable just talking. We talk a lot about how, in our school, we want to have conversations around race that are comfortable and challenging, and I think this group of students could be leaders eventually.”