Two Black Riverside-Brookfield High School students implored the District 208 Board of Education to do more to combat racism and promote inclusion at the school in public comments made at the school board’s April 13 meeting.
Senior Tirza Elliott and freshman Raven McKelvin said school needs to do much more than it has to doing.
“It’s about addressing the school’s lack of understanding of their own internal bias and how it affects the children they teach daily,” Elliott said.
Elliott said during her four years at RBHS she has been harmed by numerous incidents of conscious and unconscious bias. Teachers, she said, ought to undergo anti-bias training.
During her freshman year, Elliott said, two students took her food from her lunch box, ate it and then threw the garbage at her as a teacher looked on and did nothing.
“I am a visible or assumed ill-adjusted just because of my looks.” Elliott said.
During her sophomore year, Elliott said she was sitting with some other Black students in the back of the auditorium during an assembly when a teacher told the Black students to not to “get like church back there.”
On Jan. 7 this year, during a class discussion about the insurrection at the United States Capitol the previous day, Elliott was upset when her teacher did nothing after a white student said the assault on the capitol was not as bad as what happened last summer referring the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd.
“Four years of constant, subtle and blatant racist behavior has changed me,” Elliott said. “I showed up here with an open mind and heart, willing to learn and be molded. What I got was blatant ignorance, dismissed and harmed by biased adults.
“I leave here with some fond memories, as it wasn’t all bad, but I have some seriously damaging ones.”
McKelvin, the leader of RBHS’s Minority Empowerment Club, said RBHS should do more to make Black students feel more at home.
“I feel like a lot of minorities are not represented enough at this school, especially Blacks,” McKelvin said. “Although we have a meeting every now and then, I feel like the administration and teachers can do more for students to help them feel included. I would like to see more teachers and administrators that look like me at this school. I also feel like this school should be able to do basic gestures, such as hang up posters of good awareness and phrases that shouldn’t be used.”
McKelvin said she doesn’t see enough people who look like herself at the school or on the walls.
“Right now white students walk down the hall and see art and pictures that represents them, [but] Black students don’t have any art here,” McKelvin said. “It makes me feel like, sometimes, I’m invisible.”
Just under 5 percent of RBHS students are Black, while approximately 37 percent are Hispanic and 53 percent are white, according to the latest state figures.
McKelvin said that African-American history and culture should be embedded into the RBHS curriculum.
“When will I be able to represent my culture, when will I be able to learn about my history and, mostly, when will I feel like my culture is represented and welcomed in this school?” McKelvin asked.
McKelvin said the school should represent Black and other cultures.
“This is something that should be supported by the school,” McKelvin said. “There are ways to incorporate history and diversity into all classes at RB, there are ways to make our building art and decorations more diverse. I am asking you, the school board, to be willing to invest time and resources to improve this at RB. We need to make everyone at this school feel welcome.”