As America and the world take time to reflect on and change acts of racism after instances of police brutality, students in the Olentangy Local School District have begun to share personal stories through the Instagram page “@DearOLSD.” The page encourages Black, Indigenous, and person of color (POC) students to share their experiences with racism through anonymous submissions, which are then posted to the Instagram page.
The page was not solely created to raise awareness of racism from elementary to high schools, but also to call out the administration of Olentangy Local Schools to provide a plan for change.
“We created this account to share with the Olentangy Local School District that racism is very much prevalent among all the schools, and there need to be drastic measures taken to ensure POC feel safe and welcomed in any Olentangy educational institute. Racism does not occur as sole incidents,” an anonymous representative from @DearOLSD said.
Although Olentangy Local Schools has acknowledged the account and accusations of racism from students, teachers, and administrators, no action plan to hold these individuals accountable has been released. The district has invited the community to join town halls discussing the subject matter.
As the representatives of @DearOLSD see it, “the next step would be to reform the behavior of teachers and staff members and reanalyze how to create an educational setting where students from all types of backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, and sexualities feel they are supported and understood. In order to create an efficient work environment in a classroom, students need to feel accepted.”
Reform does not need to start from the top-down as administrators implement policies that teachers then follow. Since teachers witness the actions of students more than administrative staff, they have more responsibility in recognizing such actions and correcting them. A common theme that is seen in the stories of victims of racism in teachers failing to correct or punish students who say or do racist things even when witnessing such acts.
“Many students feel as if their teachers pass off racially charged instances as purely bullying, (which should also be addressed and handled with zeal) when racism is something that has a deep root in individuals and makes a long-lasting detrimental impact on the victim,” the representatives of @DearOLSD said.
@DearOLSD wants to see each individual teacher strive to provide a safe and supportive classroom environment for all students by not ignoring racist remarks or actions in their classes.
“We feel the best way for teachers to address instances of racism is by not ignoring it and opening up a conversation about why the actions of the individual or group are harmful and wrong. Racism stems from ignorance and misinformation. If teachers dedicate time to correcting and educating their students on tolerance, we may start to see a change in inclusivity,” @DearOLSD states.
Teachers and adults in the Olentangy community have also come forward with stories. One anonymous Olentangy parent who is a teacher in another district shared his/her story about applying for multiple positions in the district. Despite his/her extensive education with a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, the educator was not called back for an interview until a few weeks ago. He/she explains that other POC educators share the same experience with the hiring process in the district.
“I find the lack of diversity among staff disturbing, as it does not represent the student body. Students want to see staff that looks like them… It is really frustrating when you know you are completely qualified and do not get a chance to practice your knowledge and cultural experience,” the anonymous educator said through a post on the @DearOLSD Instagram account.
Along with hiring a more diverse staff in the Olentangy Local School District, the representatives behind @DearOLSD want to see classes such as History taught at angles other than the lens of a white person.
“We hope to see a more holistic curriculum that includes the history of POC in the United States. Currently, our history classes don’t cover many aspects of how POC has been treated in the past or their achievements,” the representative of @DearOLSD said.
One anonymous story covered how the accomplishments of white historical figures are covered year-round in the classes, while African American achievements only get a week to a month of attention. They also mentioned the district and schools fail to educate students about Asain, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other POC history.
“America is not a white country, we are a place of diversity, but that’s not what we get taught. POC should no longer be treated as the background noise of society. We are American,” an anonymous voice said on the Instagram page.
The Instagram page not only wants to initiate change with administrators but inform fellow students of issues occurring in their halls and classrooms. Students, particularly the majority who are white, are unaware of the racism that other students experience.
“We see a pattern of microaggressions against students of color regarding their lunches, hair, skin color, country of origin, culture, and stereotypes. These are things that have been so normalized to comment on in society that students and teachers may not even realize the harm behind their words. We see many accounts of racial slurs being said either in casual conversation or targeted speech by non-black students. As a reaction to many of these racist encounters, students feel inclined to either ignore the occurrence or laugh at them,” @DearOLSD said. Too many stories from students tell of other students making racially charged “jokes”, which they don’t realize are offensive. The representatives want to see a change made in school through a change in what is allowed at home. They believe that people are not born to hate or to be racist, they learn to do it.
“Change starts at home. Many of the students who create an unpleasant and tense environment at school go home to a setting that allows their racist behaviors to go unchecked. Parents are the role models to their children, and their children will mirror the actions they see their parents do. Parents need to take the responsibility of teaching their kids to be open-minded and welcoming,” the representative of @DearOLSD said.
With a change in the administration in the district, students, and teachers, the representatives of @DearOLSD believe that all students will feel welcomed in the district. These stories are learning moments for all who read them, and the hope is that the words of fellow students will stick with others as they are more conscious of the impact of their words and actions.
As @DearOLSD said, “This page is meant to open students’ minds to issues that they may not have known were occurring or have stood as a bystander to. We want students who have been ignorant in the past to realize the error of their ways. We want to see all students self reflect on their actions, question their beliefs, and reform the way they treat people that are different to them. We want a more culturally sensitive student body that is willing to change their ways and be ready to say something when they see their peers do something racist.”