The following address was delivered at the CCUSD Board of Education meeting on June 9, 2020. Natalia Stehlin serves as the student member on the Board and as the Vice President of ASB at Culver City High School.
I know my role in these meetings is to provide updates on the high school’s activities; however, as the voice that represents students of Culver City High School, I feel as if I have a responsibility to address what is going on in our country and how that pertains to Culver City Unified School District.
I have been a student of CCUSD since kindergarten, starting at El Marino, CCMS, then CCHS. As I now move on to pursue higher education at UC Davis, I feel appreciative of the education I was provided with; however, I know that so many things must change.
Oftentimes, when students complain about racial injustice or prejudice that they’ve experienced within CCUSD, they are met with “but were the fourth-most-diverse school district!” Yes according, to an article years ago CCUSD was named the fourth-most-diverse school district; however, taking that title and using it as something to excuse real experiences has been harmful. Yes, I feel lucky to be a part of a school district that claims to value diversity; however, I feel as if we have become complacent, and we can do much much better.
At a protest I attended the other day, a speaker had asked the crowd, “When was the first time you had a black teacher?” I was alarmed to realize that throughout my 13 years of education within CCUSD, last year – my junior year of high school –was the first time I had a black teacher. If our claim to fame is diversity, then that must be reflected in who is leading the classroom. Our teachers and staff must reflect the student body.
Racism and prejudice within schools is a multifaceted issue and must be looked at through different lenses. First, what is being taught in the classroom. In history classes, we only learn about black history when it’s within U.S. and European history. We learn about slavery, segregation, MLK, Rosa Parks, and that is basically it. The history of black people should be its own lesson. We should learn about culture, language, arts – there are so many stories and lessons we are never told. Two years ago, an Ethnic Studies class was started as an elective. It is a semester-long course and the other semester is Gender Studies. I had the opportunity to take this class, and I loved it, not only because it was beautifully taught by Ms. Young, but because I was exposed to so many lessons and information I had never heard before. I think this class should be taken by every student, to expand their own knowledge and it teaches empathy.
There are noticeable racial disparities within the classroom. In high school, there are different types of classes one can take, “regular,” “honors” and “AP.” If you look inside these classrooms, you will notice a few things. In my AP classes, I am surrounded by students that look like me, they are predominantly white and Asian, in honors classes it is the same. “Regular” classes are different.
First, the regular classes are stereotyped as the classes with the “bad” students or the ones who just don’t care as much, which isn’t true. These classes are also predominantly filled with black students or students of color. It is not that these students are less capable; however, they are not as encouraged to take these classes. From conversations I have had with students of color, they feel as if their education is not as valued, as if they are invisible at times. It’s hard to foster an environment of inclusion and equity when, up until this year, we had a hat policy that prohibited the wearing of du-rags. That rule targets one group. I have witnessed students being called out to remove their du-rag during class, which only distracts from their right to an education. There are many issues with dress codes that I believe you should address such as the oversexualization of female students and the fact that it is inappropriate for teachers to even be viewing students bodies looking for something to dress code. However, the rule that was in place against du-rags was especially harmful, and many students have voiced that they felt targeted and uncomfortable.
Culver City Unified School District must do better. You must have conversations with students of color. I promise you once you have, you will find that almost every student of color has had a racist experience at one of your campuses. I spoke with Leah Howard, who was this year’s President of the Black Student Union, and I reached out to her in order to pass on her message and tell some of her experiences. She told me how she feels like an outsider at Culver schools because she is not a resident, and that she often feels targeted as a young woman of color. She had experiences with a racist substitute teacher in the ninth grade who told her that she wasn’t good enough to be a part of this district; and of course she has proved them wrong. She feels that students of color are not given the same benefits as their peers, that you feel like you are being watched at all times. She voiced how many times we are only assigned to read books written by old men, and that students deserve to be provided an education that dives deep into all cultures and backgrounds.
There undoubtedly needs to be education reform. We can’t tip toe around this topic any longer, frankly we cannot afford to. Culver City and its leaders must react, adjust and progress. Yes our schools are great. Yes we are more diverse than most. But these countless stories of racism and prejudice that you can hear from black students speak for themselves. We need more teachers of color. We need an education system that teaches of all cultures. We need to practice what we preach. You need to have an open dialogue with students. It starts with education, and all of Culver City’s students deserve equal treatment and an equal education.
Natalia is headed to the University of California, Davis in the fall to major in sociology.