Alexus Quinn, a Verona high school senior, has experienced racial discrimination in school, not just from fellow students or parents, but teachers. This week, she joined about 300 of her peers from around the country to learn how to more effectively do something about it.
“These are teachers that are teaching in a classroom, and in a classroom you’re going to have different students, whether they're Latino, African-American, or LGBTQ, and they have biases that are affecting the way that they’re teaching,” she said. “They’re not given the same opportunities as well off students and that really opened my eyes. That’s why I really want to change my school and I’m going to go back to Verona as a teacher so I can show them how it’s done.”
Quinn attended the Minority Student Achievement Network conference at Madison's Concourse Hotel this week along with about 300 students from around the country.
This year’s theme, called “Exploring Deeper Roots,” led to discussions about inequality issues students face at school. The goal of the conference was for students to have a better understanding of the discrimination they face in schools, discuss solutions for it and figure out how to implement solutions in their schools.
A few Dane County high schools were present including Verona, Middleton-Cross Plains and West High School. Rev. Alex Gee, pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church, was a keynote speaker at Friday's conference where he delivered a motivational speech encouraging students to create their own paths in life.
Amira Caire, also a senior at Verona High School, said she encountered racial discrimination in her schools where teachers assumed she was slower and wouldn’t excel. Caire, who’s from a diverse town in Maryland, said moving to predominantly white Madison was a culture shock for her.
“It really did affect me and my school performance and I’ve had to switch counselors because some of them were discriminatory against me,” Caire said. “That’s why this conference is so ibmportant and although our school district is not perfect, discussions like these really help and we can share what we learned with our administrators.”
At a "root cause analysis" discussion, Middleton-Cross Plains district students agreed that mental health was a factor that inhibited a student’s academic performance and there needs to be more support for kids with mental health. They also said the school’s climate, where a student may face racial, gender and sexual orientation discrimination, plays a role in mental health and can possibly make it worse.
Simi Seerha, a Middleton High School senior, said society needs to get rid of the stigma associated with mental health so individuals can be more open about it.
“We all acknowledge that physical health is important to take care of but we always forget about mental health and if you’re depressed, it’s hard to go through your daily activities, just like if you don’t have a good physique,” Seerha said. “Mental health is not stressed enough because if you can’t take care of yourself in that way, you can’t function like a normal human being.”
Seerha and her classmates also mentioned it’s important for students to have teachers and staff they can go to when they need someone to talk to.
Students will return to school and present the discussion outcomes to school administrators, school boards and superintendents. The ultimate goal is to create plans that will decrease problems of inequality and discrimination in their high schools.