Will Portage Central ever be anti-racist?

African+american+girl++standing+indoors+and+looking+at+the+camera.+She%27s+showing+an+message+that+says+Stop+Racism+on+her+hands.

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African american girl standing indoors and looking at the camera. She’s showing an message that says Stop Racism on her hands.

Ellie Geib, Sarah Fulton, and Liz Williams, Co-Editors-in-Chief, Website Editor-in-Chief

In a time where our country is grappling, yet again, with racial injustice, we find ourselves at Portage Central rejoining this conversation based on recent events. About a week ago, a racially offensive and insensitive image was sent in a group chat with over 100 students, and has since reignited a conversation about racism in our community. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first incidence of racism at Portage Central. The difference between past events and this most recent incident, however, is the response from administrators and staff. Administrators recognize that a no-reply apology email and ten day suspension is not the solution to combating racism. 

“If you do something shameful, you should feel shame. If you hurt our community, you need to feel bad about that. We don’t need you to feel like you are a bad person, but we need to you see the impact that your actions had, and you need to own that,” Assistant Principal Jason Frink said. “That is the idea behind restorative justice, to look outside yourself, and look at how your actions affect others.” 

In response to instances of racial injustice in the past, staff members Carolyn Moore and Nate Turner started a diversity club last year that had not been able to meet often due to COVID-19, but this club has now resumed their weekly meetings. 

“It is important that groups of people have a supportive place to express themselves,” Assistant Principal Tama Salisbury said. “Advisors can also help administrators understand how people are feeling and what we can do to help systematically improve our school for everyone.” 

 

How does Portage Central handle these situations?

 

Portage Central has a lot of protocols in place in terms of dealing with hostile learning environment situations after they occur. However, administration is working hard on a more proactive plan to create a better environment for all students and prevent hostility from occurring. 

When situations occur, the school, and principals only have so much power. As stated in the student hand book, the maximum punishment that can be given immediately at the school level is a ten day suspension. When demanding justice, the public should keep in mind that expulsion is a process and, even when immediate expulsion seems warranted, it is not an option. 

Students receiving a ten day suspension, however, have a chance to lessen their consequences by participating in a restorative justice program. Restorative justice is a practice that gives students the opportunity to better themselves and their community rather than just serving a punishment. 

Mrs. Salisbury said, “Without restorative practices, you’re kind of relying on the individual to better themselves without any education about what it was that went wrong and they may not have ways not to engage in that type of behavior.”

With restorative justice, students learn what they did that was wrong, why it hurt others, and how that hostile behavior can be prevented in the future. It’s an excellent practice in terms of moving forward and trying to better our school, and community, as a whole. 

“The intent of restorative justice is to have the student look outside themselves and look at how their actions have actually impacted the community,” Mr. Frink said. 

Our school works with organizations like the NAACP, Hispanic Council and YWCA to help educate students about hurtful and hostile behaviors they have committed. Portage Central is trying to work closer with these organizations to educate our school as a whole rather than just students who have been hurtful to others. The school wants to incorporate these practices on a daily basis to make our school a better environment for all students and to prevent a hostile learning environment from forming. 

 

How can Portage Central as a whole move forward?

 

In terms of moving forward, the school has an Inclusion, Diversity and Equity club, in hopes of creating an environment where students can feel comfortable to share their own stories and experiences. The club is composed of students who want to be a part of the movement for change and establish justice.

“Discussions on uncomfortable and comfortable topics will be one of the most important things we do as a diversity group,” Mr. Turner said. “Understanding that there are different types of people in the world, discussing, and sharing ideas from different backgrounds is something we need to appreciate more and more as a society.”

The club serves as a safe place for students to come together and connect with one another, as they communicate with people who may look like them or understand their struggles. Outside of this group, the staff is trying their best to assure students that they are a shoulder to lean on.

As a staff, we are here for anyone and everyone in more ways than one. We are here to listen,” Mr. Turner said. “We are here to share empathy with one another. We are here to share our ideologies and our experiences to help guide the misguided.”

This dignity is also shown throughout the student body as numerous students develop ways to become an ally. When involved or placed in situations like this, many are encouraging others to call out derogatory actions, educate one another and put themself in the other person’s shoes. 

“What needs to be normalized is fighting for the morally correct thing and thinking for yourself, this cannot happen if you bystand,” senior Bella Klein said. “We are all human beings and should advocate for each other.”

This process of moving forward desperately needs support from all sides in order to make our black community feel empowered as well as follow the route they suggest.

“What needs to happen is to amplify the few, but powerful black voices in our community here,” Klein said. “There is no place in this series of repeated incidents to have a white savior moment, we need to hear from our African American peers to share their thoughts, feelings, accumulated concerns and what they think we need to do as a community to better ourselves.” 

The few African American students in our community have shared their thoughts and concerns as to what they hope to see, however, there are certain aspects that they don’t believe will change.

“Racism will never go away here. I’m sorry to say it but it will not,” senior Yidana Mumuni said. “PC has always been a predominantly white school, leading to its questionability in terms of the mentality that their students possess, and recent events have not been helping. You can’t change the mindsets of students, but you can at the very least make them more cautious, so their racism stays in their households.”

Most students of color do not expect much to change, although they do hope to establish a general understanding on how to avoid and respond to situations like this in order to prevent them from occurring in the future.

The reality is, Portage Central has had issues surrounding race for decades If we truly want to move forward from this and be anti-racist, we must take preventative action and play a significant role in supporting and upholding our peers. We must continue to promote equality in our community to correct our past mistakes and achieve justice. 

“If you feel shy to speak up when you see or notice something that isn’t right then you’re not just part of the problem, you are the problem,” Mumuni said.

 

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