Centering Racial Equity in Schools at the Ballot Box
by Delia Arellano-Weddleton, Director of Partnerships and Engagement
As we get closer to this year’s midterm elections, I’m reminded of the lingering impact all elections have — especially for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian American communities. 2020 changed many people, individually and collectively. The COVID-19 pandemic and the recognition that anti-Blackness runs deep in the United States have likely influenced the lenses through which many see the world. However, I would argue that for many Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian American young people of color, the events of 2020 underscored the disparities they face. For many, issues such as the digital divide and lack of access to adequate healthcare and healthy meals were not new. Likewise, witnessing the murders of Black people was another example of the history of racialized violence. As we reflect on the lessons learned during the past years, we should also consider the role we can play through civic engagement year-round as well as on election days. We need to be mindful of the direct impact that policymakers and the policies they pass, whether at the local, state, or national level, have on Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian American young people of color.
“Young people are change makers and do not hesitate to use their wisdom, voice, and agency to fight for conditions that are racially equitable.”
Young people are change makers and do not hesitate to use their wisdom, voice, and agency to fight for conditions that are racially equitable. But despite their willingness to create a better world, they do not have the right to exercise their voice at the ballot box. People of voting age have the opportunity to be allies and the responsibility to be cognizant of the role the elections can have in creating a society that is better designed to center young people, with racial equity at the forefront.
As a first-generation American and proud Chicana from Texas, I am proud to do work at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, specifically through a racial equity lens. When you believe in improving the world for those most marginalized by our institutions, specifically the education system, all of us benefit from the changes. As we continue reflecting on the impact that the current sociopolitical landscape has on the youth of color, the Foundation continues to identify conditions that can contribute to an environment that supports students’’ academic and social-emotional growth.
Based on learnings from our grantee partners, we prioritize funding several conditions that community members believe are critical to creating an environment where Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian American young people can feel supported, valued, and receive a high-quality education.
As we head into the midterm elections, we are working with our grantee partners to prioritize building culturally responsive schools, increasing inclusive policies, and ending the criminalization of young people in schools. Why? Because the decisions we make at the ballot box impact our schools and communities.
Students should feel valued and empowered in their learning environments through curricula that represent the histories, people, and stories that make up this country. Schools should be welcoming spaces for young people of all backgrounds and their families. All students deserve to attend schools where they are safe, supported, and respected.
As funder, we believe that our role is to listen and support community members to identify the solutions they think are best for them. Over the past years, we have witnessed grantee partners’ strong racial equity efforts create conditions that allow youth to thrive. Here are a few examples that are broad and present various entry points both community organizations and schools are well-positioned to address.
Condition 1: Studies show that students do best when they are supported by diverse and culturally competent educators. This is true for both youth of color and their white classmates. To increase teacher diversity, Latinos for Education (L4E) is working on legislation to pass the Educator Diversity Act. Its passage will increase the number of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and teachers of color in Massachusetts and will serve as a national model for diversifying the teacher pipeline through state-level policy. In 2019, several CT youth groups worked relentlessly to win a campaign that resulted in the state requiring all high schools to offer an elective course in African American, Puerto Rican, and Latino history by 2022.
Condition 2:The Coalition for a Multilingual RI recently won a Dual Language Immersion Model policy and Timeline bill that requires the Rhode Island Department of Education to create a model policy and timeline to assist local education agencies in implementing a dual language immersion program. These types of policies can create a learning environment that is more supportive of multilingual learners, especially as they develop their language proficiency.
Condition 3: Additionally, there is legislation in RI that focuses on creating learning environments designed to support decreasing the overcriminalization of young people. Due to the efforts of several groups, such as Young Voices, and RI Kids Count, a state-wide advocacy organization, the 2022 legislative session passed two such bills. The Trauma-Informed Schools Act establishes the implementation of trauma-informed practices in all elementary and secondary schools and creates a trauma-informed commission. And bill RI H6649 requires that Rhode Island’s department of education collect and publicly report data on the number of School Resource Officers in each school district, including disaggregating data on the use of force against students, student arrests, and referrals to law enforcement or courts.
Across the New England area, many organizations are strategizing to directly impact policies that operate with a racial equity lens, such as through voting, volunteering, speaking up publicly, rallying new voices, and more that impact policymaking for those of us who aren’t connected to these types of organized grassroots efforts. How we choose to use our voices, agency, and power in the midterm elections will have implications for years to come. Let’s be mindful of the impact our decisions will have in creating a thriving world for today and future generations of young people.