Efforts to improve racial equity in the Deerfield schools continue, as school board members spent time during a committee meeting Monday learning more about white privilege.
School board members spent nearly 45 minutes watching educational videos and responding to discussion questions about racial inequalities.
Superintendent Michelle Jensen, who organized the exercise, said it’s important that racial equity work in the district start at the school board level.
“This portion really is for board development and administration. This is the start of our professional development for ourselves as a group,” Jensen said.
Board members started to unpack the concept of white privilege, which board member Melissa Frame described as “what advantages, what assets do we have as white people that people of color don’t have.”
An important distinction, Frame said, was that privilege doesn’t always mean money or authority. It can apply to skin tone, too.
While any person can experience hardships, Frame and Jensen both said, people of color experience hardships specifically because of their skin color.
“The color of your skin is what’s deemed you to have the privilege that you have,” Jensen said.
“In my life, I have been the minority almost never,” Jensen added.
As a predominantly white school district, board members suggested a discussion about white privilege was a good first step.
While potentially uncomfortable, Jensen said it’s an important step toward better-serving students of color in Deerfield schools.
“Understanding white privilege is a start,” she said. “What can we do that makes this place the best for (students of color) that it possibly can be… knowing that there have to be moments of extreme, extreme loneliness in that fact,” Jensen said.
“I think the hard part’s going to be where to begin,” board president Jim Haak said. “I look at our board and we’re not very diverse.”
Board member Autumn Knudtson agreed that the coming process will take “a lot of effort and a lot of thought…especially when we all mostly look a lot alike.”
Jensen plans to have videos and articles on white privilege for board members to dig into at the next two school board meetings on Aug. 17 and Sept. 14, to “lay the groundwork” for future action. Audience members have the chance to read those articles and watch videos along with the board.
A push in the school district to talk about racial equity and diversity began in early July at the school board in response to the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis.
Floyd died of asphyxiation on May 25 after a white police officer allegedly knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking a national call to address systemic racism.
The school board’s dialogue was also sparked by a group of Deerfield High School alumni creating a petition calling for it to address racism.
The petition called on administrators to edit the district’s mission statement to include racial equity and diversity; create a task force; offer professional development for staff; punish racist behavior; hold diversity training; update history and literature curriculum to include more diverse content; celebrate a day of diversity, and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In response, the school board added a standing agenda item at each of its meetings to talk about racial justice. Board members also suggested forming a racial equity committee to focus on curriculum, recruiting and professional development.