Inclusive Education Starts with the Students

My high school experience in Mississippi has illustrated the importance of student voice to advancing inclusivity in education to me.

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Always writing, performing, and speaking to shed light on injustices within his school and state. Knowing that no belief is ever complete, he continually tests his values through Speech and Debate and Journalism. Passionate about creating a more inclusive education system and telling the unheard stories. Loves playing tennis, programming and anime.

(Source: Ethan Choi)

Education is supposed to be a student-centered opportunity catered to the students. However, despite making progress, education — especially public education — is stuck in the past. There are examples of student-centered and progressive institutions, but they’re not representative of education for the majority of students within the United States.

Being from South Mississippi, I don’t see those student-centered and inclusive schools. I have sadly already witnessed various acts of overt unfairness and racism in a mere 2 years. Most of these acts all link to a common thread — a lack of student representation within the administration.

In my freshman year at Oak Grove High in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a group of friends and I tried to form a foreign language and cultural appreciation club. After hashing out all the details and getting a Spanish teacher to sponsor the club, the school initially rejected the idea under the pretense that school is an apolitical and non-religious atmosphere.

Their response was filled with inconsistencies and hypocrisy. The administration has allowed students to host on-campus Christian church services as well as a young republicans club. However, it took months of repeated proposals to get the foreign languages and cultural appreciation club approved.

The prejudice at Oak Grove extends farther than just this club. Last year, my brother was a senior who was chosen to be put in the hall of fame. Getting into the hall of fame requires being picked by teachers, being chosen as one of 20 finalists and then being reviewed again by the administration. This system seems fair enough, but when the results are put on paper the racism becomes apparent.

Within the list of the 20 finalists, there were sixteen white students, three Asian students and one Black student. Of those actually added to the hall, none were Black. When you consider that Oak Grove High is made up of a student body that is 37 percent Black, the disproportionality is staggering.

But racism and inequality aren’t always veiled on campus; in fact, blatant bigotry is often openly shared. At the start of this school year, the senior class held their parade, and in multiple videos, students chanted, “white power.” Other footage showed a student carrying a “Blue Lives Matter” flag. Many students were outraged that the school took no disciplinary action and led a walk-out to support the Black Lives Matter movement. In response, the school gave every student who attended the walk-out detention.

These are issues that shouldn’t happen. A student shouldn’t have to work harder to be noticed because of the color of their skin. Students shouldn’t have to fight for a place to express their cultural identities and backgrounds. Students shouldn’t be silenced — they should be heard. Oak Grove isn’t the only case of a lack of student representation. The sad truth is that for a Mississippi school, this is actually one of the better cases.

But a better case doesn’t make the situation good. We need to create a school environment that gives each student an equal opportunity to succeed, with representation for students who are marginalized. Of course, increased student representation isn’t an end-all-be-all solution, but it is a much-needed catalyst to achieve equity and create a truly inclusive education.