Changing Seats: A Student Led Forum


Anavi Prakash, Reporter

Equity and diversity at school have been increasingly urgent issues. They have been talked about at School Board meetings and election forums, but there is never a lot of time to hear from those affected by the lack of equity the most: students. On March 17, 2021, the student ambassadors for Bay Bridge led a forum where they talked about their experiences with racism and inequity at school, giving school staff an opportunity to listen to what they can do to ensure everyone feels comfortable. The panelists consisted of junior Asia Henning,  junior Fabiola Lyons-Jasper, and another upperclassman.

The discussion first started with talking about the importance of racial equity. Starting with the Black Lives Matter protests that happened within the past year, the panelists talked about how their eyes were opened even more to the discrimination against Black people, and it was disheartening to see some defending the murder of George Floyd. Currently, Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, is on trial for the murder. Despite the large emphasis on stopping police brutality, the panelists also said everyone needs to change–including the police and schools. The biggest change that needs to occur is getting rid of the systemic racism in white people. The racism people have forces Black, Indigenous, and People of Color’s words to fall on deaf ears because they are in the minority. They concluded that part of the forum by explaining that racial equity isn’t talked about as much as it should be. Moreover, the rare times that it is talked about, there is never any follow-up action taken. 

Next, they talked about their own experiences with racism and lack of equity. The biggest idea that was brought up was the ubiquity of racism. They have all experienced frequent microaggressions and said the word choice of people carrying out the aggressions chipped away at their identities. Severe injustices they face at school are threats and harassment, mainly in the hallways. However, no matter where they face the aggravations, no one stands up for them. Some people go as far as to not believe what the students say when they ask for help to prevent more racism. Those people range from other students to staff members. 

They also feel like they’re constantly being put down. It destroys their self-esteem, creating a sense of uselessness within the individual. The irony is that many students who come to WFB for the schools come because they’ve only heard positive things about the district. But for all Whitefish Bay’s talk about its excellent classes, its racism is rarely talked about. Racism is something that shouldn’t be kept under covers, and instead should be fixed so no student has to face that negativity, or come into Bay with a false sense of reality. Due to the racism experienced, the panelists noted that people of color usually stick together so they don’t feel judged by other people. Most of the racism and microaggressions seem to be unintentional, one panelist noted, because most students don’t know any better or how to fix it. 

For students who are discriminated against, school isn’t a safe place, which lessens their ability to learn and succeed to their full potential. The main reasoning behind that is they have to spend their energy standing up for themselves against other students and adults which is tiring. The panelists agreed that some people are willing to take the constructive criticism the students have, but there needs to be more acceptance and willingness to change for a better school environment overall. 

The changes the panelists think would help everyone in school revolve around more diversity in thought. They want to be able to have different opinions without judgment, and instead of defensiveness, be met with empathy instead. This should be the expectation everywhere, and Whitefish Bay High School needs to start working towards this.

From teachers, the panelists agreed they would like to see more discussion and accept the discomfort felt during those conversations. The acknowledgment of uneasiness increases the safety of talking about important and uncomfortable topics in the classroom. To create those discussions the panelists want teachers to acknowledge the racism in their classroom. As difficult as that may be, the rationale behind it is teachers have a huge impact on the students they have, and the way they address issues like racism will stay with a student when they go out into the world. 

Finally, the panel had requested the administration to address the bad things that happen, like racism. Saying something racist isn’t enough to get someone expelled, but reprimanding people and making them understand what they’re saying is wrong is crucial to get rid of discrimination within the school. Lastly, they would like changes in the curriculum to address racism. They cited professionals coming into the school and talking to people about micro-aggressions and how they hurt others is something they would like to see in the near future. 

Ultimately, the panel talked about things everyone can add to their daily lives. Although implementing them as habits will take some time, doing so will make a difference in several students’ lives. To increase one’s acceptance of others, everyone can work to avoid saying things that are hurtful and insulting to people who might be different. In all ways, it is unacceptable. Making fun of the music people listen to or the food they eat only hurts the other person. Next time you have something bad to say, try asking the person what they’re doing. Maybe even try it.  

Second, recognize the opportunities for growth that can come from a greater effort to include diversity within the school community. If you try hard enough and put yourself out there, the results could be beyond your imagination. You could make a new friend, pick up a new hobby, or even join a new club.  

Third, don’t be defensive. If someone feels hurt by a comment, accept their feelings and act accordingly. All they want to do is feel comfortable and welcome which is everyone’s job to make possible. Stand up for people who are getting threatened and harassed. Any kind of bullying is wrong, racism especially. Whitefish Bay’s motto is “An Exceptional Place to Learn.” However, it isn’t exceptional until everyone feels accepted and comfortable.