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Equity & Diversity Opinion

Why I’m Designing Anti-Bias Training for My Classmates

By Zoe Jenkins — September 23, 2020 3 min read
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Read the introduction to this essay, “Students Need Anti-Bias Training, Too,” by Education Week senior contributing writer Catherine Gewertz.

I know my fellow high school students need training in inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism. So I’m creating that training.

I have been working with the University of Kentucky and Civics Unplugged to create a 14-week, entirely virtual, free training on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. It is nearly ready to be released, and anyone can use it. I hope you will.

As far back as kindergarten, I’ve had experiences that show the need for training like this. Interacting with my classmates showed me just how little students are taught about race and how to be culturally competent. Classmates touching my hair or comparing their summer tans to my already dark skin. Students asking me if I am lost when I walk into advanced classes. Non-Black classmates defending their use of the N-word. I’ve even had peers tell me I’m not “really Black” since I get good grades. The list goes on.

Until recently, while I could feel that these experiences were wrong, I could rarely articulate why. I knew these incidents were racist or biased, but even after going to school for 12 years, I could never quite explain why non-Black people should not say the N-word or why it isn’t a compliment to be called white.

Our schools are not preparing students to enter our incredibly and increasingly diverse world. Too few students learn about the writings of James Baldwin or the indignities suffered by Sarah Baartman, who was subjected to exhibition in so-called “freak shows.” Our history classes praise the suffragists without discussing the Black women who were pushed aside. By the time we walk across the graduation stage, few of us have learned how race has shaped every system in America or that race is fundamentally a social construct.

We are not just missing out on an accurate history. Race shapes how we treat each other in the hallways, too. Yet our schools would rather turn a blind eye than talk about race. By the second semester of my junior year, I began to realize that these lessons weren’t going to come from my teachers. I’d need to get the ball rolling myself.

I began doing research to find diversity and inclusion training that was meaningful for Generation Z—my peers. I quickly realized no such thing exists. So, with a lot of spare time during quarantine, I set out to make one.

My idea was to provide training for students just at my school, but the project has quickly grown into a nine-person effort to teach the principles of equity and anti-racism and a factual history of race to as many young people around the country as possible. I connected with the Office of Diversity at the University of Kentucky and reached out to other Gen Z’ers through Civics Unplugged to work on the programming and form a base of youth facilitators.

Our program, Diversity, Inclusion, Cultural Competency, and Equity, or DICCE, aims to expand students’ notions about race, help them talk about it respectfully and coherently, and lead them in reevaluating the systems that perpetuate oppression.

In our training, we want to explore many facets of race that go unexplored in our schools. We want to teach students the truthful history of race in America and help them recognize and tackle inequities in their own communities. We will walk students through different types of racism—institutional, interpersonal, internalized—and explore unique intersectional bigotries that affect every facet of their lives. We will help students reflect on whether their social circles and schools are fully inclusive and we’ll challenge their mindsets on what whiteness is. Through group lessons, discussions, and journaling exercises, students will begin to answer such questions as how to be an anti-racist and what privilege looks like.

A crucial piece of that process is understanding how our identities are layered. For most of us, privilege isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. Some parts of our identities, such as our educational background, might confer privilege while others, such as race, simultaneously take it away. In our training, students will consider how they can use their privilege to help others without silencing them.

DICCE wants to teach young people to teach other young people! I want my peers to shape our curriculum into what their schools, clubs, and spaces need the most.

We are in a history-shaping, first-of-its-kind moment. The world, ground nearly to a halt by a pandemic, is having to slow down and reckon with systems that have been plaguing us for centuries. District and school leaders, how will you partner with your students to bring about change together?

A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2020 edition of Education Week as I’m 17, and I’m Designing Anti-Bias Training for My Fellow Students. Here’s Why

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