SUPERINTENDENT’S CORNER: Students for Equity maps goals for school community

This week, it felt appropriate to yield my column space to student voice. As such, I present this column written by the Brown County High School Students for Equity Club, a student-led club working to advance equity and inclusion across our school district.

— Dr. Laura Hammack

“Oh, you go to Brown County? You must be racist then.”

“Brown County — don’t they hate gay people there?”

“I bet you guys say the pledge to the Confederate Flag.”

“As a transgender girl, I definitely would not feel safe going to your school.”

These are all comments frequently heard by Brown County students.

As one of these students, Josephine Fields grew increasingly frustrated with these statements — not because they weren’t valid, but because she witnessed the validity in them every single day.

From hearing racial slurs in the hallway, to watching students mock those with disabilities, to helping a friend who was harassed for being gay, to being a victim of misogyny and sexism herself, Josephine knew that there was an evident lack of equity and inclusion in Brown County Schools. Seeing that administration was not effective in eliminating all issues regarding equity and inclusion, Josephine proposed that student-led advocacy would be the best plan of attack.

Josephine founded Students for Equity in December 2019 to empower other students to fight for positive social change and to help amplify marginalized students’ voices who fall victim to the issues at hand. The members of Brown County Students for Equity gather around a central mission: to promote equity and inclusion in Brown County Schools regardless of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, religion, ethnicity or able-bodiedness.

While our school is diverse in terms of gender and socioeconomic class, we lack diversity of race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity and able-bodiedness. For this reason, members of our community don’t always recognize what it’s like to be a member of a marginalized group in that regard.

As a community, we need to acknowledge our privileges, we need to educate ourselves on social justice, and we need to empathize with others in order to create a community where all are truly welcome.

Recognizing these needs, Brown County Students for Equity got to work.

Having only met a few times before COVID shut down schools early for the year, Students for Equity met virtually over the summer and established four main objectives for the 2020-2021 school year:

1. Normalizing the use of gender pronouns;

2. Eliminating the use of derogatory slurs toward other individuals;

3. Establishing equity and inclusion training for all BCHS staff;

4. Distributing equity and inclusion educational resources and opportunities to students.

We have already taken on many initiatives to address these objectives. First and foremost, we gathered a group of extremely passionate and hard-working students determined to see change. With that group, we hosted several school and community activities. As school began in August, we hosted an “art build” where students submitted artwork they felt represented ideas of equity and inclusion, and we displayed the artwork around the school.

In September, we partnered with the Brown County chapter of the League of Women Voters to host a voter registration drive for seniors in our high school. Last week, we hosted a movie night on Oct. 29 featuring the movie “The Hate U Give,” which discusses race and police brutality in America.

In addition to hosting events, we work to educate our peers on social justice issues by curating our Students for Equity bulletin board and Instagram (@bc_studentsforequity) with educational resources. Most importantly, we collaborate with Brown County Schools teachers and administrators to discuss school climate and culture as well as to propose potential policy changes. Change needs to occur on an institutional level to truly be effective.

While Students for Equity has been highly engaged in this meaningful work, the current place of our larger community on its journey towards equity and inclusion is one that still lacks understanding and empathy. As a result, our school district experienced an incredibly unfortunate circumstance.

The “yearbook incident,” as many are calling it, served as a wake-up call for a lot of people to address the issues regarding equity and inclusion within our school.

Students for Equity acknowledges that there is no reconciliation for the trauma caused by the incident, but we do hope to build off this wake-up call in order to enact meaningful, positive social change in hopes of preventing instances of prejudice and bigotry from occurring again.

The school that Students for Equity wants to see is one that is loving and accepting of others despite our differences. We want all students to come to school to learn without having to worry about being treated differently for uncontrollable factors in their lives.

Based on the growth of our organization, we see this change beginning to take place. We see students and staff alike paying more attention to equity and inclusion.

We know the school we want to see is possible here in Brown County, despite our reputation and past. As an organization, Brown County Students for Equity fundamentally believes every student deserves to feel safe and welcomed within their community, and by promoting equity and inclusion through student-led initiatives, we are determined to see just that.

This column was written by Brown County High School students Josephine Fields, editor and BC SFE chairperson; Abby Padgett, contributor and BC SFE communications director; Tristen Shields, contributor and BC SFE Education co-chair; and Wylah Brahaum, contributor and BC SFE secretary.