In a world consumed by social strife and a school community that continues to uncover racially divisive and offensive videos by its students, a significant portion of the student populace must manage additional anxiety and pain. Students of color face the difficult task of keeping their anguish from plaguing their mental health and hindering their academic productivity.
Junior Kailyn Jones said students of color shoulder the burden of expectations to facilitate conversations about race in their core classrooms. Jones also noted teachers tend to target students of color to lead and educate their white peers in these discussions.
“I get the feeling that teachers expect more from us even though we’re so overwhelmed. They just expect more. But it’s kind of a touchy kind of subject, racism,” Jones said.
Students of color expressed frustration towards this undeserved responsibility and added weight. Lee said he remembered other occasions where offensive comments were made by white students with minimal follow up.
“It is definitely not our responsibility to call them out. It just brings in that whole idea that because you’re part of this minority, you should be speaking on behalf of everyone in your community. You should constantly be calling things out, especially if someone said something wrong about your community. But you know, there’s a large part of it where you might just need to process it in your own time,” Lee said.
This task is challenging when the response from white peers does not reflect the severity of the issue that is brought up in the classroom. Junior Nikita Bright-Reason recounts a time in her history class when white students seemed indifferent to racially charged incidents in the news.
“To be honest, I feel like it’s growing more apparent that a lot of my white classmates just don’t really care. I think [they should] at least have the decency to hide [that they don’t care] a little bit,” Bright-Reason said. “In my history class today, we were talking about racial events and our teacher asked students to write down how it made them feel and what they wanted to learn more about. Most of my classmates just didn’t do it.”
Although some teachers still haven’t incorporated thoughtful discussions into their lesson plans, the faculty advisers of affinity groups continue to be inclusive and trusted mentors according to Bright-Reason.
“Since freshman year, Scholars has also been kind of a place where I can go and feel comfortable, and finally really be myself. The teachers in scholars, they’ve become the closest people to me at BHS. Both of them are my trusted adults at the school,” Bright-Reason said.
Junior Ary Alvarez-Valdez said there is an immense pressure to describe her experiences even if not directly requested to do so. Alvarez-Valdez also said having a unique perspective can be isolating.
“You want to have those conversations, but then you don’t want to be the only person who’s willing to talk or has gone through a bunch of things like that. But someone has to talk about that,” Alvarez-Valdez said.
Most specifically, following the Atlanta shooting this past year, Lee said the emotional toll of these hate crimes and racism became too much to bear. He said he found solace in the empathy and support in teachers who are a part of the AAPI community.
”With the increase in hate crimes against AAPI people, I definitely have big fears and concerns around that stuff. It’s been so built up inside and at a certain point, I did reach a mental breaking point,” Lee said. “There wasn’t that level of understanding from a lot of non-AAPI teachers. But I think that where I got the most important support for me was not really through my core academic teachers, but it was through my club, and fellow AAPI students and faculty at those times,” Lee said.
Jones said while discussions about race belong in core classrooms, at the high school they are, for the most part, not being conducted the way they should be. In order to have constructive conversations, Jones said, teachers need to be more invested.
“I think the process can be improved because not all of my teachers have talked about the racial issues that happened in our school this year,” Jones said. “One of my teachers said that a scholars’ teacher literally reminded them to make sure they brought it up in our classroom and that they weren’t planning to.”
Lee said the absence of sufficient racial diversity in the staff population often leaves those students without the help they need due to a lack of understanding.
In the last five years, the number of teachers in the AAPI community grew from 4 percent to 5.6 percent. Although only a 1.6 percent increase, the effects felt immense to Lee, who said this meant more trusted adults in which he could relate to on issues specific to his racial identity.
“I think even in the recent two years, there’s been an increase in AAPI staff members, which I find awesome. There are new people I could talk to and get to know,” Lee said.
Alvarez-Valdez said she has never had a Black teacher outside of Scholars, which is very telling to the overall priorities of the district.
“It screams a very loud message, I think, that kind of sums up Brookline in a nutshell; it’s like people of color don’t exist out of affinity groups and programs that are specifically directed towards racial issues,” Alvarez-Valdez said.