Student Forum Held on Campus

Hannah Berkheimer 

On April 26th, a student-led forum was held on campus during tutorial. It was originally intended to discuss any issues students were having on campus with racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and sexual harrasment. While the forum remained open to discuss any of these issues, thanks to the events of the last couple weeks, where several students posted a racist promposal to social media, the forum focused on the events of the previous weeks and solely discussed racism on campus.

The forum started out with a conversation of what people thought about the school assembly. Many people felt that the assembly was genuine and that it was actually good. People also appreciated that it felt like the speakers were able to speak their minds and were not restricted, with one of the speakers confirming this. The conclusion was that the power of the assembly lay in that everyone had to go and listen to the speakers’ messages; everyone had to learn about racism on campus.

The forum also discussed some of the negatives of the assembly. After the assembly, many of the speakers had increased visibility across the school, and as a result began to experience uncomfortable treatment. Some of the speakers felt increased tension with other students. There were also negative comments directed towards the speakers, such as one student being told her speech was “stupid” or that what she said was “wrong.”

There was also the issue that not everyone in the audience of the assembly was as respectful as they should have been. Some students observed that members of the audience would laugh at inappropriate moments, either out of discomfort or genuine malice. 

The forum also discussed ongoing racist actions on campus. Many noted that students will make racist comments to appear more edgy or gain popularity points. One student shared a story of how several students were comfortable making discriminatory comments towards Mexicans around her because they are unaware that she is Mexican as she looks white. Overall, this story showed that many white students feel more safe making racist and/or discriminatory comments around other white students they presume will be okay with these statements.

Anger at teachers was also expressed. Many students felt that teachers failed to recognize their role in stopping or inadvertently helping racism foster on campus. For example, some students felt frustrated that teachers would react more to curse words than racial slurs. Students expressed that when and if teachers discussed the recent events on campus, some teachers focused less on the racist comments and more on the fallout and consequences for the school.

Many students expressed their frustration towards the school AG classes and the administration’s response to them. While it was clear that not everyone in the AG classes is racist and that racism does exist outside of those classes, several students who are actually in the AG department felt that the administrators allow racism to foster in these classes more than others. A couple of students described other students in this department speaking similarly to the promposal while the teacher lets it slide. Another student described how after the assembly, her AG teacher apologized for not discussing the situation sooner, but then the teacher went on to say “it’s really unfair that AG kids are targeted” and proceeded to mostly focus on this issue instead of actually focusing on the racist incident that occured.

The final conclusion of the forum was that more needs to be done to stop racism and that it will take all of us. Students wanted other people to take accountability for racist actions on campus. What particularly drew students’ anger was the prior superintendent’s, Eric Hoppes, email where the racist promposal was described as a mistake and students and families were asked to forgive. Students did not feel that the promposal was a mistake, and did not believe they should be asked to forgive before the offending students had shown any remorse or apologized. 

Similarly, students did not appreciate when other students would say “I’m not the problem,” or “I’m not this, I’m not that.” Many students felt that instead of stating you are not racist, you actually need to prove it by standing up against racism or else there will be no change on campus.

Another student forum will be held on May 17th after school at 3 pm at the Sebastopol Library. While this forum only talked about racism, the forum was originally intended to be a place where marginalized and minority students and their allies could share their experiences and plans for action could be made.