West High Alum with Demands for Racial Justice

  • Posted on: 28 October 2020
  • By: Elizabeth Arco

We are highlighting powerful letters written through the Letter Campaign to End Violence Against Black People. Please join us in writing letters! An information and writing session is being held on October 29th from 7:00 - 8:30pm on Zoom. You can RSVP here

Our goal is to send 2,000 letters to elected officials, government agencies, schools, nonprofits, local businesses, community organizations, and more, by Election Day (November 3rd). So far, we have nearly 1,600 letters.

 

Dear West High School Administration,

As a senior at West High School, 8 years ago, I performed in Multico. When I think back on those times, I remember the friendships made, the camaraderie, the collaboration, the feeling of being a positive inspiration for youth. I remember learning things from my peers that I never encountered before: why the words Latino and Hispanic are not interchangeable, what wearing the hijab meant to one of my classmates. It was because of Multico that I ended up taking classes about race in college, and continue a process to challenge my privileges and unlearn the racism I was indoctrinated in. 

What I also remember when I look back now are all the things about my school that I didn’t notice at the time. How almost none of my teachers in high school were Black, Latinx, Indigenous, or Asian. How it was strange that what we learned in Multico was exclusive, that all students didn’t have access to the curriculum. Why was African American history an elective rather than a requirement? Why was it that I never met most of the People of Color in the group until Multico, but I had classes with all of the white students? You know West High School has a segregation issue when the only classes I took that reflected the diversity of the school were gym classes. The honors classes I took were almost all white. I valued the space of Multico so much because I valued the depth of learning that happens in a diverse classroom.

During this pandemic, I know students, teachers, and administration are all facing enormous challenges. I know everyone has a lot on their plate, simply trying to keep things functioning and help young people learn. I know there is an awareness about how this pandemic is amplifying racial disparities in terms of access to resources, and I know that there are people working on finding solutions so that students living on low incomes have equal access to their education. I also understand that there are a lot of people working in education who wish for things to go back to normal. I am writing to you today to amplify the words of Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, who said "We do not want to go back to what we had pre-pandemic... normal is the place where the problems were for the kids I’m talking about. Their families don’t need to go back to normal. In normal they were in lower tracks, being suspended and expelled [at higher rates]" (source).

West needs to reckon with the segregation that has allowed deep harms to happen to children of color. This is not a quick and easy fix; it even goes beyond integrating classrooms and developing more culturally relevant curriculum, which should also very much be prioritized. The education system has done harm against Black people for decades, and I am saddened and sickened by the continuation of this legacy through increased surveillance and hyperpolicing of Black bodies in schools. Black children are regularly seen as a problem to fix, rather than being full of creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness. The knee-jerk reaction within schools is to treat all problems with discipline, rather than seeing the humanity in these children and listening to their whole story. I feel ashamed of the ways I looked the other way when walking quickly between classes and I noticed Black students constantly being stopped by security guards. 

What is West High School doing to repair the harm that Black children have been forced to endure through the education system, and the extensions of the carceral system within it? What is West High School doing to validate Black students’ experiences, to see both their joy and humanity while recognizing their pain and stress of living in a society that does not value their lives? What is West High School doing to support these children, to listen to their needs, and respect their leadership? And as a Multico alumni, I ask, how are Multico and other classes adapting to reflect the times and conversations about race? 

We are living in a transformative moment. I have immense admiration of the years-long organizing efforts to remove School Resource Officers from Madison high schools, thanks to courageous students and activists. I do believe this is a big step in the right direction. I want to see West High School, which gave me an education I deeply value and I have many good memories from, embrace the transformative times we are living in and invest in deeper support for its students of color. I ask you: what did you all learn when reading Dr. Bettina Love’s ‘We Want to Do More Than Survive’ for professional development? What did you all learn from the racial reckoning of 2020? What did you all learn from the 20+ years of having a class called Multico in your building, without seeing much change to racial equity and justice in the school? 

I am in full support of these demands, written by Black leaders in the Madison community. I implore West High School to take a moment to pause and reflect about what is within your powers to better support Black youth and other youth of color. Thank you. 

  1. Remove all harmful punitive policies, practices and people from school environments, including police, suspension, and expulsion. Do not support politicking or policy decisions that put property over Black people's lives. 
  2. We want public institutions to engage in 360 degree accountability through abolitionist restorative justice. 
  3. Support and fund a Black-led committee with decision making and implementation power to remedy the deep patterns of harm caused by racist violence in all of its forms. 
  4. Using recommendations of said committee, invest in a campaign to decriminalize and humanize Black people. 
  5. Provide reparations to said committee to create educational initiatives for the Black community. 
  6. Provide reparations for Black land trusts and other remedies for gentrification and hyper-segregation. 
  7. Create a truth and reconciliation process to replace the punitive criminal justice system with abolitionist restorative justice. 
  8. Adopt the demands developed by the Movement for Black Lives.

Sincerely, 

Ryan Eykholt

Class of 2013