116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On March 7, a cluster of people shuffled into the Linn-Mar School Board meeting. The audience of roughly 30 had gathered to hear the presentation of a recent student survey about the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Linn-Mar.
Before the presentation had begun, high school student Briana Clymer stepped to the podium to offer public comment.
“Other students of color and I have been called racial slurs, been stereotyped or worse. Too often, staff have brushed it off … it is not clear if the teachers didn’t want to or don’t know how to address these situations properly.” Briana went on to praise student resource groups like ALO, Spectrum, and the Social Justice Club that offer support to students who are members of marginalized populations, and to urge continued progress toward a safer and more equitable learning environment.
Following her impassioned speech, statistics from the survey data were reported to the board and the public. The results highlighted widespread student experiences of racially or gender-motivated bullying.
However, conspicuously absent were data points highlighting intersectionality — the data were presented as individual categories (Black students, nonbinary students) in a manner that doesn’t tell the complete story about the experiences of students who are members of more than one marginalized population.
There is so much more information that will be critical to making headway for students who truly deserve an environment that allows them to be at their best.
● What are the demographics of Linn-Mar’s alternative high school called Compass vs the demographics of Linn-Mar High School?
● What are the police intervention/suspension/detention rate demographics?
● What are the faculty and staff demographics?
● What policies and procedures are in place to handle discrimination-based student safety issues?
● What resources are available to support students who are members of marginalized communities experiencing trauma related to discrimination in the school setting?
For at least one of these items, it would seem that Briana has done our homework for us as she announced from the podium: “Of the thirty-two staff identified as assistant principals, principals, administrators, and managers, I found not a single person of color. In elementary, secondary, and other classroom teachers and guidance counselors, eight of the 549 staff were identified as people of color. Shouldn’t our staff be as diverse as our student population?”
Dragon Zheng has spent his sophomore year representing the districtwide student body on the committee that worked with consultants to develop the survey at Linn-Mar. As co-chair, Dragon is tasked with helping to lead the committee in advising the school board and administration on equity issues in the district — a topic that has directly impacted his own educational experience. He described experiencing and bearing witness to bullying beginning in elementary school.
“Kids would exclude you from their social group, say ‘you can’t play with us’. In middle school, I heard slurs about gender identity and sexual orientation, and slurs about Asian, Latinx and Black people — and white kids would ask Black students for an ‘n-word’ pass”
I was incredulous. “Wait — an ‘n-word’ pass?”
“Yeah — white students would ask Black students to say it was ok for them to say the n-word, and then if they said no, they would bully the Black student. I’m involved in the committee because I have real experience with the kind of things that are going on. I wanted to do this to help make a change because I dealt with it and my sister is dealing with some of it right now at Oak Ridge.”
Dragon also lamented parents who actively push back against the work of the committee.
“During Transgender Awareness Week, they thought their kids were being coerced into becoming Trans. Some have said ‘we should create a white kids club’ not realizing that ALO is very diverse and open to all students. Some parents have even said they are going to sue the school for talking about inclusion at all.”
The committee presented themes created to guide their work that allude to a much more robust course of action in the future. The survey and initial report are certainly an indication of progress from a district that has historically struggled with how to address inequity. The work of improving equity can only be done effectively with true transparency and a willingness to learn, acknowledge shortcomings, apologize for missteps, commit to, and execute action steps for progress. These kids deserve an environment where they can show up as themselves and grow into the leaders we keep telling them they can be. There is no space and no time for silence when suicide rates and depression are skyrocketing among teens who are impacted by both the high-profile discriminatory legislation and impacts of discrimination, and the educational ecosystem we foster here at home.
As Briana put it, “It was important to speak up because students like me need to voice our opinions to make our school more welcoming and inclusive. Sometimes people can’t speak up for themselves — I would want to be the voice to advocate for them and help them to also use their own voices to advocate for change in the district.”
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org