Shenandoah often feels like an extended family. However, as a predominantly white community, Shenandoah can also be exclusionary to people of color. To address this concern, Shenandoah Schools alumni, including myself, have recently developed a petition with more than 550 signatures that urges school administrators to make the commitment to racial justice numerous other school districts have made.
It can be difficult for a predominantly white staff to understand the lived experiences of POC, which are different from their own. Therefore, staff must be trained to recognize and reprimand incidents harmful to POC. A picture in the 2011-2012 high school yearbook touts a white student wearing blackface to emulate a Black faculty member. Blackface has consistently been used to dehumanize Black people and should never be tolerated. Serena Parker, an African American Shenandoah student from 2003-2015, states this “really uncomfortable” incident, exacerbated by the lack of POC staff to share her concerns with, led her family to consider moving away.
A school board member recently responded to this incident by falsely claiming the faculty member was complimented by blackface, stating, “If [faculty member] saw it as a compliment and was not offended, I do not see why we should be.” The administrator’s dismissal is a form of gaslighting that perpetuates harmful actions and disempowers individuals from speaking up when they experience racism. Parker states this response to an overt act of racism “invalidated” every racially motivated incident she ever encountered.
To prevent similar incidents, the District must teach students the historical and current implications of these actions. The District’s curriculum does not teach about anti-Blackness that persists today. It includes few texts written by POC. The lived experiences of POC authors shape their writing, making these texts fundamental in teaching students to empathize with experiences different than their own and providing a sense of inclusion for POC. Referring to this curriculum, Leslie Lopez, a Chicana Shenandoah student from 2001-2014 states, “I believed I was a ‘fake’ American for so long.” This ideology shaped the perceptions of other students, giving them the confidence to call Lopez and her Latin American friends “stupid Mexicans” and make deportation jokes.
Regardless of intent, alienating racial slurs and microaggressions have a lifelong impact on POC - leading them to internalize the idea that they are less than due to their race at an early age. In fourth grade, a student told Parker, “at least I’m not Black like you.” Statements like these are preventable through education. In response to a KMA article outlining the petition, a recent Shenandoah graduate described common usage of the N word as “literally no problem.” The N word has a historically derogatory connotation, which should be taught early on. Normalization of this term signifies a need for change.
With increasing diversity in Shenandoah, it is vital for school administrators to directly address racial justice and the petition. The support system offered in Shenandoah schools is invaluable. Inclusivity should be the cornerstone of education to ensure this community is as strong as possible.