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How Can Students Stand Up To Racism in Schools?

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Whether you want to admit it or not, racism is a problem in schools across the country.  Student journalists from PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs in Oakridge High School in Conroe, Texas pitched us the idea to make a video exploring racism in schools.  In the video, our host Myles Bess investigates different ways for students to resist racism and talks to some high school students from San Francisco’s Lowell High School who are on the ground working to disrupt racism in their school. 

TEACHERS: Guide your students to practice civil discourse about current topics and get practice writing CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) responses. Explore lesson supports.

Is racism a problem in schools?

There are many different ways racism happens in schools. There are individual racist acts, like racial bullying, microaggressions, and biased thoughts. Then there’s institutional racism in which policies and rules discriminate against students of color. A rule or policy doesn’t need to be explicitly racist to be racist. It’s racist if it ends up impacting students of color more than white students. Examples can include dress codes that ban things like durags, dreadlocks, braids, or discretionary discipline policies. Students of color end up getting punished more for the same types of offenses as white students. And then there’s also systemic racism, where racism is deeply rooted in the structures of society. Examples of that include schools with large Black and brown populations tend to have way fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students. If racism wasn’t a problem in schools, then students of color and white students would have the same probability of attending a highly resourced school, graduating, getting suspended, or expelled.  But the reality is that students of color, particularly Black and brown students are less likely to attend highly resourced schools and are more likely to get expelled or suspended. And that’s a consequence of how society is rigged against those students, not something innately inherent about that student’s race leading to these outcomes. 

What are anti-racist school policies?

Schools can adopt anti-racism or equity policy as one way to help dismantle racism in schools, and create a school culture that actively fights against racism rather than passively maintaining it. These policies are designed specifically to confront racism head-on and help level the playing field so that all students have an equal chance to succeed in school. 


What are things schools can do to be less racist?

There are a variety of ideas and actions schools can take. Some ideas include:

  • Creating school-wide, or school system-wide equity or anti-racist policies and eliminating existing racist rules and policies.
  • Hire more teachers of color, particularly Black and brown teachers who are dedicated to addressing equity issues.
  • Teach culturally responsive curriculum. This can include making sure that diverse voices are represented in the curriculum, in-classroom examples. It can also mean making ethnic studies a requirement for all students.
  • Don’t tolerate racist acts and behaviors, and have clear consequences for students who engage in that behavior, and support systems for students who are impacted and traumatized by racist incidents. Check out the selected sources below for more ideas. 


What the Research Says about Ethnic Studies (National Education Association)

Locked out of the Classroom: How Implicit Bias Contributes to Disparities in School Discipline (NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.)

History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools (The Edvocate)

Reducing Racism in Schools (UConn Center for Education and Policy Analysis)

Dismantling Systemic Racism in Schools 8 Big Ideas (Edweek)

7 Steps Toward Building an Equitable School Culture (Edutopia)


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