Beyond a presentation, we need a change in culture

The N-word presentations in advisery marked the first school-wide coordinated conversation about race since Seminar Day in 2016. The presentations attempted to kick off a worthwhile conversation about how our community deals with racial slurs.

However, it is questionable whether any temporary conversation, whether it be for four hours in a single day or 25 minutes over four days, will impact students in a meaningful way.

These presentations evoked a variety of reactions. Some students felt it was unnecessary. Others thought it was not nearly substantial enough to make a real difference. Both of these reactions indicate that the conversation about race needs to continue.

However, in the weeks since the presentation, there has been little continued discussion. Some students have even claimed to have heard the N-word in the halls more than they had prior to the advisery presentation. Most of the time we have no idea how to talk about racism in our own community. Some people, not only at NT, may not fully understand the need to tackle these systemic, societal issues, or else simply feel uncomfortable or defensive when it is brought up.

It can feel more comfortable to simply avoid talking about race altogether. However, avoiding or eliminating discussion altogether is unacceptable.

It is good that the school administration is trying to address these issues and start a discussion. It is also reassuring that within the presentation there were references to the overt manifestations of racism that have occurred on both campuses, perhaps hitting closer to home than more general discussions of racism in the United States.

It is critical for us to be willing to look inward and reflect upon the dynamics within our own community. We must continue to have these conversations about race and the other things left unsaid when we talk about our community. However, it is also important to remember that racism is not always as obvious as a scribbled racial slur on a bathroom wall.

Use of the N-word is symptomatic of larger, systematic racism that has always been a part of America and our own community. The North Shore community has such a lack of diversity because of the legacy of redlining, a racist way to keep people of color out of white, affluent suburbs. While the presentations offered a way for students to start discussing racism in advisery, continuous discussion and awareness is necessary.

There is no perfect solution that will open up our school to being more actively aware of racial inequality and the experiences of black students. But there are some steps we can take. Year-round curricula should include lessons about racism in America so students can get used to thoughtfully discussing racism and other complex topics.

As students, we need to build our critical thinking skills, practice empathy and open-mindedness, and learn to feel comfortable with the possibility of having uncomfortable conversations. Grappling with and analyzing racism on a weekly or daily basis may be more impactful than a yearly presentation or seminar.

There are history and English classes at our school that have already incorporated units on American racism, which is a great way for students to deepen their understanding. If this is extended to all humanities classes at New Trier, we can ensure that students are more prepared for complex conversations about and experiences with race in the future.

Rather than avoiding the topic altogether or doing short-term programs, perhaps a more thorough and long-term approach could help.
In order to grow, we must seek out information, perspectives we disagree with, and build relationships with people from many different backgrounds.

If discussions of race and other topics are not part of the curriculum, students must work to seek out these discussions outside of the classroom. Students must actively engage in these discussions when given the opportunity, and when these conversations are not happening, we must bring it upon ourselves to say something.

We cannot change or improve what we are ignoring.