It’s ironic that school is portrayed to be a safe space. For most students, it is anything but.
Typically, the main issues discussed surrounding this subject are bullying or school shootings - which are very real problems - but this leaves out an important topic. It is the teachers who set the environment for the students, and the teachers who are supposed to hold them accountable for insensitive words and actions. However, teachers turning the other cheek to blatant bullying is not uncommon. And even worse, it is often they who make certain groups of students feel uncomfortable. A teacher with good intentions can have a large impact on their students’ lives. But the same can be said for the opposite, and this has long remained largely disregarded. Nevertheless, this can be changed. And it seems that a movement is in the making.
Two students at Ramones C. Cortines (otherwise known as VAPA), a performing arts high school in downtown Los Angeles, have decided to take on the issue. Surela Basu and Hannah Harrison are determined to make a change after experiencing insensitivity and racially-fueled bias from teachers at their school. They have created a petition on change.org, which has received over 1,000 signatures - proof that this is a widespread issue within LAUSD. The petition calls for mandatory minority sensitivity training for educators at VAPA. They recently reached this goal, with the first training session having happened on November 16th.
But after accounts of teacher misconduct came flooding into their private messages, Basu and Harrison quickly realized that this is part of a larger issue. They have taken on the challenge of incorporating this training into all of LAUSD. From unwanted outing and deadnaming to racial slurs and biased grading (as Harrison recounts, one of her teachers clearly favored white students when grading assignments), it is clear that this dilemma is rampant and widespread.
Harrison and Basu have been working with organizations such as ACLU and Students Deserve to bring attention to the issue on a higher level, and they urge students who have experienced similar issues at their schools to take a stand. Often, students feel powerless and isolated, many of them having dealt with subtle- or more pronounced- bias from their teachers from a young age. However, as Basu points out, if no one speaks out, no one realizes that others are experiencing the same thing. Fighting this issue as a unit will be much more effective than a few people trying to solve the problem on their own. Given the accounts of teacher misconduct flooding into their private messages, Basu stresses the power students can hold when working together. “We’re really going to be unstoppable,” she states. It rings true.
So how does this problem affect us at Eagle Rock? This issue is less pronounced at ERHS than at many other schools in LAUSD, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. 55% of ERHS students surveyed answered “yes” when asked if they had ever gotten insensitive comments from teachers regarding their race, sexuality, gender, etc. On a surface level, Eagle Rock boasts a welcoming community. This may be true for some students. However, the fact that over half of the students asked said they have felt uncomfortable due to an inappropriate comment from a teacher proves that the community is not as inclusive as it claims to be.
Orion Williams, a tenth grader at Eagle Rock, agrees. He explains that a large part of the time, the primary issue is passivity from teachers. In multiple situations, students have used slurs colloquially in the classroom, and teachers have ignored it. This stands out especially because teachers strictly enforce other rules: if someone eats in class or has their hood up, it’s called out immediately, but racist, homophobic, and ableist slurs apparently don't hold the same gravity.
Furthermore, certain teachers are infamous at Eagle Rock for making insensitive jokes during class- which might seem lighthearted and funny to some, but for minority students, it’s uncomfortable and makes it difficult for them to feel safe talking to the teacher. As Williams points out, many teachers at Eagle Rock actively try to make the school as safe as they can for everyone, and it’s without a doubt appreciated. Additionally, much of the insensitivity and passivity coming from teachers stems from ignorance, not hatred.
Ignorance, however, is not an excuse, especially when minority sensitivity training is such a clear solution. It’s a difficult project to take on, but it’s high time that we start working towards making school safe for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality. It will take more planning, but there are solutions underway and people committed to helping them go through. It’s not a question of what anymore; it’s simply a question of when.