116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Education / K-12 Education
Kennedy High’s Black Student Union educating peers on racial slurs
Racial slurs used ‘casually’ in school hallways, they say
CEDAR RAPIDS — Black students at Kennedy High School are educating their peers on why the use of racial slurs, which they say are commonly heard in the school’s hallways, is inappropriate.
The students, who are a part of the school’s Black Student Union, say it’s important for them to share how the use of slurs affects Black students and people of color. Imani Evangeline, 17, a senior, said she and her friends hear them “so often” in the corridors.
“It’s used very casually,” Evangeline said. “It’s tiring to see this going on and not much being done about it. We’re tired of it and it needs to stop.”
The students hosted an open mic night at Kennedy High called “Voices of the Voiceless” along with the Gay-Straight Alliance. Wilsee Kollie, 18, a senior and leader of the Black Student Union, performed a spoken word she wrote called “N-word.”
“My ancestors had the N-word whipped on to them, full of so much vileness. My Black peers took the N-word by re-owning it and changing that hatefulness and turning it into something positive symbolizing family,” Kollie said during her performance.
She described her experience when a white co-worker used the racial slur and was defended by their white boss.
“For us Black people it’s our choice if we want to say (it),” Kollie said. “For you white people, it is not a choice at all. So, for God sake, I am not comfortable.”
Michellene Kananda, 18, a senior at Kennedy, said a teacher for her English Language Learner class used a racial slur when reading “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone, a story loosely based on true events involving the shooting deaths of unarmed Black teenagers.
“I was very shocked in the moment,” Kananda said.
Ruth White, founder of the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success based in Cedar Rapids, which provides Black students an education they can't find in a public school classroom, said it’s “sad” that it has fallen on the shoulders of Black students to educate their peers.
“Adults should be responsible for the climate in the school and classroom,” White said. “But since it is an issue students have recognized, I think that they are to be congratulated for the courage it takes to confront such a contentious and long-lasting issue.”
When students come across a racial slur in literary text in the classroom, it’s an opportunity to educate them about the history of the word, White said. But “that does not provide license for students to use it in their own colloquial exchanges,” White said.
White used “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain as an example of a racial slur being used in literary text. However, the racial slur should not be read out loud in class, White said.
“I will not use that language when I read that aloud to you,” she said.
There’s an opportunity to talk with students about why Mark Twain used that to get a point across, and how he himself did not think it was appropriate to use that language, White said.
“It’s incumbent upon educators — people who are supposed to be imparting knowledge to students — to do some research,” White said. “You don’t ever use literature as an excuse for allowing or pardoning or giving license to use inappropriate or hateful language.”
Emmyana McDaniel, 16, a junior at Kennedy, said it should not be up to students to teach staff and adults about Black history and what it means to be a person of color.
“Teachers should research the meaning of a word and educate themselves first, instead of saying a word that separates us from others and letting the class read it,” McDaniel said.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; email@example.com