On Thursday night in the Schapiro, the Men of Color Alliance, Sigma Lambda Beta, The Sons Of Eta, BSO, and Teach For America hosted a panel discussion about the role of men of color in today’s educational system. Bwogger Heather Akumiah was there, eating pizza, snapping at all the wrong times, and occasionally taking notes.
The panel was filled with educators and educational leaders from low-income New York communities. Amongst them, Larnell Vickers, Associate Director of Recruitment for the Uncommon Schools Charter Network; Edgar Reyes, Assistant Principal of Harbor Heights Middle School; Abbas Manjee, Mathematics Teacher at ROADS Bronx High School; and Curtis Palmore, principal of Exceed Charter School.
The event started with participants being grouped into workshop stations around the room. It didn’t seem that a room of black and Latin@ Columbia students needed to be convinced that students of color all over the country are facing educational struggles. Instead, we skipped the statistics and discussed articles that detailed the avenues of oppression that are currently holding back students of color in the United States.
As panelist Edgar Reyes mentioned, nothing is an accident and everything is systematic; this was the notion we kept in mind as we searched the articles for clues that could explain the state of students of color in today’s educational system. Amongst these were lack of teachers of color in the classroom, insufficient support for students in difficult living situations, and limited knowledge about navigating mainstream society. For panelists, the problems and solutions were one and the same, and they boiled down their plan to three main steps.
First, they called for more teachers of color in classrooms across the country. Panelist Abbas Manjee noted that students of color often grow up without ever seeing people who look like them in positions of power. Imbalanced racial representations in the educational system mean that students of color limit themselves without even knowing it; they cease to see a place for themselves inside the classroom and instead look to fruitless channels outside of the classroom to gain validation. Having teachers of color in the classroom would teach students that education is a realistic avenue to a sustainable and successful lifestyle.
Next the panelists called for more support programs students of color. Many of them cited city mentorship programs like Big Sibs and NYCMP as important in keeping them on track in their own lives. As it stands, teachers and other faculty don’t have the appropriate training to communicate with students who live difficult home lives, and who can’t always separate what happens at home from what happens at school. Similar to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s call for more after school programs, panelists believed that extra support on campus could be instrumental in keeping young students of color on the right path.
The last action that panelists called for, and what might be most controversial, was an increased emphasis on code switching. As the debacle over Rachel Jeantel’s testimony this past summer proves, a lot of young people of color are simply speaking the wrong language. While an ideal society wouldn’t mistake AAVE for incompetence, it’s important for students of color to understand that they won’t advance in today’s society without fluency in mainstream English. All panelists agreed that learning to work within the current system is as important as trying to change it.
The panel then opened up to questions from the room, which largely centered around the implications of code switching and the practical implementation of support systems for students of color. The tone of the discussion was largely hopeful and determined, and ended in a call for our increased involvement in fixing the education system for students of color—a call that was met with snaps around the room.
Precious baby cherub and his dilf getting some education via Shutterstock