Thursday evening, students gathered to discuss the impact that discrimination in the public school system has had on their lives.
The meeting, which was hosted by the Latin American Student Union (LASU), was held in the Old University Union and drew more than 20 students.
“I think it was a great turnout,” said Karen Gutierrez, a member of LASU and a senior majoring in human development. “We had a diverse group of people come in to discuss the topics that are important to the minority community.”
The focus of the meeting was on the criminalization of blacks and Latinos in the educational system. It began with a series of skits performed by volunteers from the audience.
One scene involved a girl bringing a plastic knife to school and then being called into the principal’s office, where she received a suspension from school. Another featured a boy who was arrested for talking back to a school security officer.
Later, it was revealed that these skits were reenactments of real-life events that occurred due to “zero tolerance” policies in place in public schools. These policies place an equally harsh punishment on a student who brings a prohibited item into a school, whether it be a butter knife or a hunting knife.
“The ‘zero tolerance’ policy is a huge fight right now in New York,” said Derrick Conyers, the vice president for academic affairs of the Student Association. “It reminds me a lot of the ‘stop and frisk’ laws but inside the schools. It’s like they’re saying, ‘As soon as we see you doing something, we’re gonna get rid of you with no questions asked.’”
Guests shared stories from their years in public school and the clashes they had with school authorities. One girl shared an anecdote about when she was asked to leave her school for wearing bobby pins in her hair.
Overall, guests came away from the discussion with positive feelings.
“I thought it was really productive and great to see other people’s perspectives on current and important topics that pertain to us as a community,” said Onyx Ramirez, an undeclared freshman.
Another topic of conversation was that some teachers in inner-city schools might not feel driven to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. Ramirez said that although some teachers may have good intentions, it might not be enough.
“It’s difficult to see someone who isn’t a part of your community try to talk down to you or speak to you in a certain way or try to educate you when they don’t understand where you’re coming from,” she said.
Gutierrez said that she was happy with how the event went and that LASU will be hosting similar discussions in the future.
“Everyone volunteered, everyone spoke, everyone was able to get their input in,” she said. “I think it was productive enough to get people juices flowing and thinking about the discrimination that’s going on in our own schools.”