Senior Kim Parkinson shares thoughts during open forum Nov. 9. Students in SOAR hosted the safe space to discuss racism at Park and the white faculty member who said the N-word. (Ayelet Prottas)
Senior Kim Parkinson shares thoughts during open forum Nov. 9. Students in SOAR hosted the safe space to discuss racism at Park and the white faculty member who said the N-word.

Ayelet Prottas

SOAR discussion facilitated to express emotions, reactions

Reactions to white faculty member saying the N-word

November 10, 2021

The conversation

“We want change,” students cheered as SOAR members wrapped up their discussion regarding the use of the N-word by a white faculty member Nov. 4. 

Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) hosted this open forum in the Auditorium during Park Connections Nov. 9. 

During the meeting, students were encouraged to discuss the incident — not as a debate, but as a safe space for conversation. According to senior Ezra Hudson, who helped organize the event, this proved beneficial despite some challenges.

“It was positive for the most part besides some of our distractions toward the end,” Hudson said.  “But I think for a good amount of time we were able to create the space that we wanted to create, which was positive.”

Student organizers reached out to administrators to find a time and a space to host this conversation. According to senior organizer Symone Morrison, she was surprised by the behavior of some students at the event. 

I was honestly disappointed. There were a lot of immature people in the crowd. We were here to talk about the incident and talk about our feelings and be vulnerable with each other. It  just turned into a very disrespectful thing, and I’m very upset by that,” Morrison said. “I was hoping it would be like our other discussions were, but that wasn’t the case this year. Hopefully, people can reflect on what happened today.”

Principal LaNisha Paddock and Superintendent Astein Osei were present in the conversation to listen and answer questions students had for administration, not as facilitators. According to Osei, he attended and spoke at the request of the organizers and students. 

“We just wanted to show up and be supportive and help in any way that they saw fit for us to help,” Osei said. “The only reason I was speaking is because they asked me to. If they would have said no, I would have sat quietly.”

The main takeaway is that we have a tremendous amount of work to do to close the gap. If you look at our strategic plan, I would encourage you all to close the gap between what we say we believe, and the current lived, daily lived experience of our students

— Astein Osei

After he listened to students and responded to questions asked, Osei said he recognizes the disconnect between the district’s anti-racist actions and the effect that they have on students.

“The main takeaway is that we have a tremendous amount of work to do to close the gap. If you look at our strategic plan, I would encourage you all to close the gap between what we say we believe, and the current lived, daily lived experience of our students,” Osei said. “There’s a gap there that has to be closed.”

For many students, the discussion gave them an opportunity to speak on larger issues at Park. According to senior Jada Mclemore, one of her biggest grievances was the amount of times incidents like these have gone unnoticed by faculty. 

“I’m disappointed in the way that the school is handling this because when Paddock was talking to me, she understands where I’m coming from. But at the same time, she doesn’t because she was saying, ‘we have to handle it the right way.’ If it was being handled the right way, this wouldn’t be happening right now,” Mclemore said. “I know we’re just focusing on this one incident last week, but it’s just outrageous how many times (it) has (previously) been let off the hook.”

Throughout the forum, other instances of similar manner were brought up. Although Osei can’t comment on the situation, he said he is taking the allegations into consideration as the investigation continues.

“That’s new information for me. I’m not suggesting that the students are lying, but what I’m suggesting is that that’s new. That had never been reported to me, so I’ll have to learn more about that,” Osei said.

While listening to students speak on different racist interactions they had at Park, Osei said he will continue to work to make Park feel safer for all students.

“It’s really hard for me to feel the pain that the students were expressing — to hear the pain that they were articulating. We as a district have this goal for what the type of environment that we want to create for the students and, anytime that I hear we’re not doing that, it’s tough.”

Moving forward

Regarding the next moves administration should be taking, Hudson said it’s important to continue discussions like these. 

“Moving forward, it’s really just applying pressure on the admin to keep going with the investigation and being clear with all their students on next steps,” Hudson said. 

While grateful for the space to speak, many students expressed the importance of action, not just conversation. According to Morrison, she hopes the conversation can stem change within the administration at Park — as situations like these have been bringing student safety into question.  

“I heard the students. I hope we can find change we’ve been working for so long for,” Morrison said. “The student body has been working for so long to find change. A lot of statements are true, there (have) been so many incidents that have happened and it’s just very aggravating. I’m just hoping for change.”

According to Osei, administration has been working on holding themselves accountable, and ensuring student’s voices can be respected and addressed throughout policy changes.  

“With any sort of hate speech, regardless of the nature of it, certainly it’s my hope and expectation that the administration is taking all of those very seriously,” Osei said. “The School Board is currently in the process of drafting and seeking feedback on policy 103, a racial equity policy, which would be more specific and (is) really more about accountability for the work that we’re doing (as) an organization so that we eliminate the types of experiences that we heard about here today.”

While she acknowledges Park has been working to do more equity work, junior Stayci Spates said there is still much more to do in order to understand and address every student’s needs. 

“I do believe that our school is making strides to be better. I think the school is trying to be more racially conscious and trying to get the teachers to be there,” Spates said. “We still have a lot more work to do, and we need to stop letting teachers back if they’ve (had) racist incidents. Teachers and administration need to see it from the students’ point of view, especially students of color, and not from the teacher’s (or the) admins point of view.”

Responding to the students’ call to action, Osei said setting up future conversations and meetings with students will be integral for building a space where students can feel safe. 

“I want to follow up with the students and see if there’s anything that they see as a potential next step. Last year, we had all of these local but national incidents that impacted our world around race. Just because those things have calmed, that doesn’t mean that we’re in this post-racial place,” Osei said. “This is just a reminder around the urgency that we all have to carry to create a racially equitable environment.”

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  • J

    Julie FoxxNov 12, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    As a parent and former graduate of Park, I don’t understand any of this! If a teacher used that abhorrent word, no matter the context, there should be consequences. Why does there need to be an investigation, a forum, a discussion or any of that. Our school should have a 100% no toleration for this type of behavior for ANYONE in the school system including: teachers, students, admin workers or parents. END OF STORY.