Students and Teachers Address Racism at Minnechaug


Submitted photo

‘Chaug students attended protests this summer in support of Black Lives Matter movement.

Morgan Hastain, News Editor

Teachers and students feel as though racism is a problem that Minnechaug needs to address–and consequently are trying to find ways to listen and respond to the needs of students of color.  

“We have to be a place where kids can count on adults if they overhear something to address it right then and there,” said Principal Steve Hale. “We educate in history and math, but we also have a responsibility to educate about culture.”

 Over the past few years, racism has been a taboo subject within education across the country. Not many students, or staff, have talked about the issue until very recently. Minnechaug is one of the schools that has been trying to make changes based on how students of color are feeling. 

In education, there are two different types of language a student can be punished for. Discriminatory language is when a student says something discriminatory, but it is not perceived as offensive by a student or a group, while discriminatory harassment is perceived as offensive. 

Some students believe that the punishments for any type of racist act or language should be stronger, as they see way too much of this behavior throughout our school. 

Nisa Harris, a junior at Minnechaug, had discriminatory language directed towards her in her freshman year. Though the student was reported, Nisa feels as though the punishment should have been more severe. 

“I think teachers should try being more aware, punishments more consistent,” Nisa said.  “Students make racist comments right in front of teachers and they do not say anything.” 

Nicholas Lang, a senior at Minnechaug, as well as the Secretary of the Diversity and Culture Club, has talked to many students of color who have shared similar experiences. 

“I talked to people, especially black students, I know that Minnechaug is very white, and sometimes people have said the n-word or people may act specific with specific people of color, and it is pretty awkward to know that those things are happening in our school and this is kind of off-putting, to be honest,” Lang said.


Ms. Norris and Ms. Doe participated in student-led Black Lives Matter protests this year.

In 2019, Brown University sociologist, Jayanti Owens, conducted a study on how white students and students of color are treated in the classroom. Upon further analysis, Owens discovered that the different treatment of black and white students accounted for half of the racial gap in school suspensions and expulsions among 5- to 9-year-old children.

“I personally think that teachers should speak up when things like that happen,” said Lang. “Because although it may make students uncomfortable talking about issues like racism, it’s really important to actually bring the stuff up because we can’t be ignorant forever.” 

In addition to discriminatory language, personal bias plays a role in this issue as well. Ms. Norris, an English teacher in the Minnechaug community, as well as the leader of the Diversity and Culture Club, advises that everyone should examine their own biases. 

“I think we all are brought up and have biases, and it’s very easy to absorb negative messages, particularly about black and brown students. It’s not our fault when that happens,” said Ms. Norris. “Since I began teaching here 18 years ago, I’ve noticed that. I’ve noticed it in myself. I think we all absorb this stuff, especially if we grow up in a predominantly white suburb.”

Based on the 2017 study conducted by Owens, the analysis provides evidence that the different treatment of children in schools could play a large role in the “early criminalization of black students.” Ms. Norris seems to agree with this statement. 

“A lot of kids of color, people of color in general, will say ‘a white kid could do the same thing as a black kid, but the teacher will react to the black kid with a detention or kicking them out … where as with the white kid they might be like ‘oh well they’re having a bad day or they’re just fooling around,’ ” Ms. Norris said. “So we all have that and that’s real. I think it’s real here and it’s real in other schools too and we have to do something about it.” 

Fortunately Mr. Hale, our school principal, as well as the rest of the staff, are taking the necessary steps to tackle this issue. 

“We heard students giving us feedback and alumni giving us feedback at some of the rallies this summer that I attended,” said Hale. “So we created an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee to start to look at different things in our school community that we could do to make sure students of color, LGBTQ community, that everyone felt safe coming to school.”

In addition to the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee, Hale also plans for the staff to continue a training program that educates teachers on white privilege, as well as microaggressions. Teachers will also attend a cultural awareness training with the Anti-Defamation League, and some teachers are even planning a professional development course around the area of racism. 

“The entire school community is going to have the same goal about increasing our own cultural proficiency, so that we can better help students graduating from a very largely white high school,” said Hale. “But they’re going to go into workplaces and colleges that are a little bit more diverse, so one of the skills they need when they graduate here is how to be more culturally proficient, so that’s a goal that all of the faculty and staff are taking on together as a unified front.”