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#1865 OP-ED

“A FORMER ARBOR VIEW STUDENT STANDS FOR ANTI-RACISM POLICIES"

CONTRIBUTOR: SHELBIE LYNN SWARTZ / ARBOR VIEW HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE

Two years ago, my alma mater, Arbor View High School received state- and nation-wide attention when two white students threatened the lives of nine of their Black peers.

 

They posted their threats to Instagram, where, thankfully, they were reported and stopped before physical harm could be done to the named students. But the mental and emotional harm was already inflicted.

 

At the time, I was appalled that this happened at Arbor View—at a school where I spent my most formative years learning and growing. But, thinking back to my time there, it was not all that surprising that racism like this was allowed to take root without notice.

 

Today, Akiko Cooks and Jai Marshall (the mothers of two students targeted at Arbor View) of No Racism in Schools #1865 are pushing the Clark County School District Board of Trustees to write an anti-racism policy that would not only address more fully instances of race-based targeting in our schools, but also enshrine the concept of anti-racism in CCSD’s curriculum. I am proud to be in the fight for this policy with them.

 

This is a necessary step to take, firstly, to protect our students of color from harm and hatred, and, secondly, to educate our students on what it means to actively combat racism and discrimination wherever they persist. I know firsthand how necessary that second part is—because I failed to do so both during my time within CCSD and shortly thereafter. 

 

I was a straight-A student. A well-read and informed student. A proud “bleeding heart liberal” who talked all senior year about how excited I was to vote blue. I edited our student newspaper and bragged about watching C-SPAN (insufferable, I know). And yet, I still used racist and problematic words and jokes that I had no right to—both out of ignorance and carelessness, neither of which are excuses. 

 

And I was not alone in this contribution to oppression and racism within our schools—it was (and I’m sure, remains) commonplace for slurs and insults to be used by students with abandon. Whether students today are aware or not, words can cause harm and work to alienate their peers—creating an unsafe and untenable environment that has no place in our schools.

 

An anti-racism policy would ensure that the students of CCSD are equipped with the knowledge and skillset to root out their internal biases and recognize oppression wherever it persists, including in their words. Just as I have in the years since, an anti-racism policy would allow all students to look internally and notice where they may be (inadvertently or otherwise) contributing to the oppression of others. Growth in the fight for equity is an ongoing and messy process, and our students need all the assistance they can get. 

 

For our youngest students, an anti-racism policy would bake the concepts of inclusion and equity into their development and curriculum; for our older students, this would give them the skills that are necessary to enter the world and move our community forward. Across the board, this policy will protect our students of color from harm and lay the foundation for a more equitable Clark County as a whole. 

 

The movement for racial equity in our schools, and society at-large, obviously isn’t solely about educating white students. But that education is key to addressing systemic racism everywhere it exists—and that includes within CCSD. There are some on the Board that do not see systemic racism as a problem. They don't have the lived experience to know whether or not racism persists in our schools today. Regardless, we need to listen to the needs of students of color. Don’t they deserve every possible chance to thrive in our schools?

 

I am glad to have reckoned with my past ignorance, and to commit now to the fight for racial justice, to the ongoing work of being anti-racist, and to dismantling white supremacy in all its forms. I hope that leaders within CCSD, including the Board of Trustees, will join me.