Video: Ferguson, Rochester, suburban students discuss racism
Justin Murphy, @citizenmurphy8:54 p.m. EST January 8, 2016
The simple fact that hundreds of high school students from 13 school districts spent all Friday talking frankly about racism in their schools is an indicator of their willingness to work for change. But the ideas they generated during that time have the potential to reach much further.
Some groups pledged to push in their schools for weekly forums on race and stereotypes, for mandatory diversity coursework, for an expansion of the Urban-Suburban program and more energy spent welcoming and understanding the students who already participate in it.
They talked about media bias, blind stigma and the longstanding dilemma of how to talk about racial equity to those who don't see an imbalance.
"We have this problem in our community, but no one wants to talk about it," said Taylor Golisano, a senior at East Rochester. "Change and diversity are coming — it's not going to always be the way it's been. So the community will have to get used to it."
If the students came into Friday lacking an understanding of the importance of confronting racism in America, they got a powerful reminder from the forum's conveners, who came from Ferguson, Missouri and St. Louis. The event was put on at Irondequoit High School under the mantle of the Gateway2Change program, created in St. Louis after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson.
The group's stated purpose is "to empower a connected student community of positive change agents to transform the world." West Irondequoit Superintendent Jeff Crane met with its founder, Drew Schwartz, at a conference in Washington, D.C., and invited him to bring the program and several students to Rochester.
Shawn Filer, a junior from Ferguson, MS talks to Rochester-area students about race at Irondequoit High School on Friday, January 8, 2016. (Photo: LAUREN PETRACCA / Staff photographer)
The local students, including groups from Rochester's School Without Walls and 12 suburban districts, spent the day exploring the interrelated concepts of race, privilege, and bias, then brainstormed action plans to take back to their schools.
Alexus Larkin, a senior at Spencerport High School, said it was the first time she could ever recall discussing race with her peers. She had never realized that minority students elsewhere faced the same problems with stereotyping that she does.
"You could open up a lot more and listen to each other's perspective," she said. "I feel like it's something that people wouldn't talk about at school."
Students from Honeoye Falls-Lima pledged to advocate for the Urban-Suburban program in their district; it is one of the few in Monroe County that doesn't already offer the transfer program.
The students will hone their presentations then present them to the public in a presentation at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Irondequoit High School auditorium.