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Linn-Mar students advocate for equity, anti-racist teaching at social justice rally
Students describe Linn-Mar as ‘prejudiced,’ ‘segregated,’ and ask for discussions about systemic racism and white privilege
MARION — Linn-Mar High School senior Taeja Miller Grundy wants to see her school change from one that’s “prejudiced” and “segregated” to one that is inclusive and anti-racist.
At a student-organized social justice rally Monday afternoon at the Linn-Mar stadium, Grundy led a group of about 60 students and staff in calling on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to veto House File 802, the so-called “education training bill.”
The bill would prohibit the teaching of divisive concepts, defined as political ideology that says the United States and Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist and sexist and that meritocracy or traits such as work ethic are racist or sexist.
Grundy said schools need to teach Black history so students can understand and confront their own racism, prejudice, white privilege and misogyny.
Grundy said she’s been called racial slurs at school by other students and had students make fun of her skin color and hair texture.
“A 60-minute class of discomfort is not equal to a life of discomfort,” Grundy said.
The rally was the first event organized by the new Social Justice Club at Linn-Mar High School, which is for any student who has felt marginalized, including students of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, and students with disabilities, said Janessa Carr, a student assistance counselor at Linn-Mar High School.
The social justice group is a dream Carr said she’s had since she started working for the district five years ago.
“Any student coming from a historically marginalized group has a voice, and the district will be forced to pay attention, shed a light on this and put things in place to make sure we’re equitable in all areas,” Carr said.
The school district, she said, is working on creating an equity team, and the high school launched an equity team this year.
According to Linn-Mar’s 2019-20 annual report to the community, the Linn-Mar district is about 80 percent white, 7 percent Asian, 7 percent Black or African American and 3 percent Hispanic or Latino. Almost 2 percent of the students are English Language Learners.
Linn-Mar High School alumna Jeany Toingar, 19, who graduated in 2020, told the students about her first year in premed at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
After her first year at a historically Black college, she said, she understands what is taught at Linn-Mar is “whitewashed.”
“Whenever we talk about racism and systemic oppression, it’s watered down so people don’t feel uncomfortable,” Toingar said.
Kayla Purchase, 17, a junior at Linn-Mar, shared her experience of coming to the Linn-Mar school district after moving to Iowa almost a decade ago.
Kayla was the only Black student in her fourth-grade class, she said, and she experienced a lot of bullying from her peers and their parents alike.
“The teachers didn’t do anything about it,” she said.
Kayla doesn’t want younger students to experience that and for that behavior to be normalized, she said.
“If you see something that’s wrong, stand up for them or tell somebody,” Kayla said to her peers Monday.
Other students spoke against hate experienced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Dragon Zheng, 15, a freshman at Linn-Mar, said there has been a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Asian American and Pacific Islander “communities are targeted in ways that threaten their safety,” Dragon said. “Use your voice to stand up against what’s wrong and report violence.”
Willie Zheng, 17, a junior at Linn-Mar who is not related to Dragon Zheng, said he joined the social justice club because he saw an opportunity to engage his peers and teachers in conversations about race.
“I believe that we need to spread awareness across the city of Marion and here at Linn-Mar so we feel like we have a voice within the Linn-Mar community,” he said.
“Any change would be great to see, for instance, hiring more teachers of color,” Willie said.
Students also spoke about being inclusive for students who are LGBTQ and students with disabilities.
Marissa Wren, 17, a junior at Linn-Mar, spoke about struggling with a learning disability.
“I learn differently,” Wren said. “It’s OK to struggle, it’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to be different.”
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