Racial Equity and Justice Student Collaborative would give students more voice
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Tualatin High School senior Raymond Arias (middle-right) testified Tuesday before the House Education Committee in support of creating the Racial Equity and Justice Student Collaborative.
Last summer, students were invited to share with Oregon school leaders their experiences with racism. During the open online meeting, an intruder placed red X’s over the student presenters’ faces. The meeting was immediately shut down.
It was devastating but not surprising, said Tualatin High School senior Raymond Arias, who had left the meeting right before the attack.
Supportive discussions with students after the meeting grew into a plan to create the Racial Equity and Justice Student Collaborative, an effort to give students, especially young people of color, more voice and a vehicle to combat racism.
The House Education Committee held a hearing Tuesday on House Bill 3363 to create the collaborative. No opposition was voiced, and the committee expects to vote on the bill Thursday.
HB 3363 would create a collaborative membership with an emphasis on students from historically underserved groups. The collaborative would advise and engage state leaders on improving education, and it would become a resource for students of color, LGBTQ youth and children with special needs.
As the Oregon Association of Student Councils state president, Arias was part of the talks among adults and students. OASC representatives worked primarily with REAP Inc., the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon Association of Secondary School Administrators to create the bill, with input and support from other education advocates, including OSBA.
Arias said it was empowering to have supportive adults respond to the summer’s hateful incident and respect the students’ input. He said student input at the policy-making level would be more important than ever as the state tries to meet the needs of students returning after a year or more of disrupted learning.
“Representation matters,” he told legislators Tuesday.
HB 3363 would open the collaborative to students ages 11-18. The bill’s text lays out sources for the group’s membership, including tribal student councils, student leadership organizations, immigrant and refugee communities, and culturally specific organizations. The membership must include at least two students from each of Oregon’s 19 education service districts, and at least 70% of the group must be from historically underrepresented racial or ethnic communities.
Critics of the bill have attacked that provision, pointing out that more than 60% of Oregon students are White.
COSA Legislative Director Parasa Chanramy said the overrepresentation of smaller communities was intentional to counteract those voices being missed in other student positions. She said during the hearing that the collaborative will be inclusive of all students but also recognize that some students face more barriers to accessing leadership and advocacy opportunities.
The bill calls for schools to provide support for collaborative members, including tutoring and counseling.
Tigard High School senior Abdirahim Mohamoud, who has been part of the planning, said his schools failed to protect him from racism but he says things have gotten better in the past two years. He directly attributes that to increased student voice in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.
Mohamoud is president of the Tigard chapter of the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union, a student-led group that has advocated for anti-racism resolutions and equity issues, such as dropping sports fees. The group grew out of the student-run effort on Ben Bowman’s school board campaign two years ago.
Mohamoud said the collaborative would provide students, especially students of color, a powerful resource when problems come up. Students would have a statewide representative group that could take policy concerns to the Legislature or the governor’s office.
Mohamoud said the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union also gives administrators a place to engage students and seek input. He said it has made tough conversations a lot easier, and he envisions the collaborative working the same way.
Mohamoud said he sees schools wanting to do better for students.
“That’s the thing about racism, every time you feel like you’re moving in the right direction, it’s constantly trying to catch up with you,” he said. “We have to keep our foot on the gas. We have to keep the pressure going. We have to keep putting in that work.”