The Need for an Equity Pledge


By Hannah Berkheimer 

Most likely all students are aware by now that several weeks ago, students at this school posted a racist promposal picture on social media. For many white students, this type of behavior came as a shock. However, for many students of color and their allies, it was not that surprising. Regardless of if this was the first time students were made aware of racism on campus or not, this incident did manage to spur the school into taking some action. The school prepared an assembly where students and faculty members of color were able to share their experiences with racism on campus and several students organized a sit-in during the tutorial, which hundreds of students attended. There was also a student forum to discuss issues like racism on campus and to offer a safe space for students to discuss the incident. 

It is undeniably a good thing that students and the school have taken these steps to discuss racism on campus. At the aforementioned forum, many students stated that they felt the power of the assembly lay in that everyone had to go and hear its message. At the same time, many students who spoke at the Tuesday assembly have mentioned feeling like they are now targets or have been targeted at this school because they spoke. One speaker shared that after they spoke, they were told that what they said was “wrong.” Other students described how teachers remain apathetic to racism, reacting more to curse words than racial slurs.

The fact that this issue persists proves that it is going to take more than a week of antiracism talks for racism on this campus to go away. What we need is a concerted effort from all students and staff to confront the biases we and the people that surround us hold. That is where the Equity Pledge, created by the Sonoma County Equity in Education Initiative (EIEI), comes in.

EIEI’s mission is to support “parents and students in their drive to achieve racial equity in education.” The initiative was created by students from other schools and several non-profit and social organizations in the county. The pledge was created to promote anti-racism and anti-discrimination, in order to “guarantee an equitable future” for children in this county.

The pledge has resolutions on the individual, organizational and institutional, and community levels. On the individual level, people are asked to examine their own identities and beliefs, actively listen, learn, and evolve, and do whatever is in their power to dismantle racism. At the institutional level, organizations are asked to acknowledge that privilege and complicit bias exists in this country and then examine how the organizations’ practices enforce these power structures in order to transform their policies with inclusive decision making in mind. At the community level, people are asked to acknowledge the need to dismantle racism in the wider community, work to redefine relationships in societies based on anti-racism, and hold leaders accountable.

Students at West County need to sign this pledge. According to EIEI, “When students stand for their rights, powerful things happen,” and they are right. Faculty are unable to be around and hear students at all times, so for there to be a more inclusive and safe environment on campus, students need to commit themselves to taking a stance against racism. 

Some students will argue that for racism to go away, people need to stop talking about it. But that’s what the school has been doing. Five years ago, Evan Mack and his family sued Analy High School for its lack of response to racist bullying on campus. Since then, the school has done its best to pretend this never happened and not talk about it, and yet racism has continued to persist on this campus. The real reason people argue this is because discussing racism is difficult. At the forum, many students shared that they could feel other students in the audience were uncomfortable with themselves during the Tuesday assembly. The only way to make this uncomfortable feeling go away is if students create an environment where racism cannot persist and by educating themselves. It is clear from the past several years that silence does not make racism disappear, so the only way for it to go away on campus is for students to confront it. Furthermore, if you are uncomfortable hearing about racism or realizing that you may have done something racist, intentionally or unintentionally, imagine how students feel experiencing it?

This issue is not just limited to students though, and teachers and faculty must also commit to the pledge. EIEI has stated that educators “commitment to equitable, just education for all is necessary in the fight for systemic change.” Faculty members are in a position of authority when other students are not. So, they actually have the authority when they hear or see racism to do something whereas other students may not. 

Part of the faculty’s job is to create a safe environment for all students to learn in. Therefore, it is the teachers’ and faculties’ responsibility to make sure students are aware racism will not be tolerated in their classrooms or anywhere else on campus. This means reprimanding and punishing students when they say a racist remark or do a racist action, not just brush it off. This also means discussing racism in classes where it is appropriate. If faculty does not do this, they are sending the message that some students are worthy of a safe education environment and others are not.

During the forum, one of the students described how other students will say, “‘Oh, I’m not this, I’m not that’”. The student concluded that the students who say this should show us, not tell us. Signing this pledge will not solve racism, but by committing to the actions outlined in it, students and faculty would be proving that they are actually anti racist and that there truly is no room for racism on this campus, as well as showing their willingness to make a safer school community for all. Because if the school does not actively work against racism on campus, it will keep coming up, no matter how hard the school tries to cover it up.

The Initiative also held a meeting with the Sonoma County Office of Education on May 5th to further discuss the Equity Pledge. You can sign the Equity Pledge for yourself at their website: