Tired of racism in the halls, this Ontario student walked out of class

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-11-20 13:16

New committee and survey will help, board says

While most students in Canada were sitting in class on Thursday — either in-person or virtually — a group of kids in Ontario staged a walkout.

Students in the York Catholic District School Board logged out of their online classes in order to take a stand against anti-Black racism.

The event was organized by a group called Students Speak Up YCDSB after anonymous stories of discrimination were shared in an online forum started by alumni.

“We don’t feel seen or heard,” said 16-year-old protester Selena Osunde, who walked out of her virtual classes at St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Maple, Ontario.

The walkout follows a similar protest in Calgary last month after staff were recorded saying the N-word.

It also comes as participants in the Black Lives Matter movement continue to push for an end to anti-Black racism across Canada and around the world.

In an email to CBC News, the school board said it is committed to addressing anti-Black racism and “all other inequities that exist in our system.”

One student’s story

That promise doesn’t go far enough for Selena.

During the walkout, Selena took part in a Zoom forum where three panelists shared their experiences and advice on tackling anti-Black racism. (Image submitted by Selena Osunde)

The Grade 11 student said her goal in joining the walkout was to hold school staff accountable for acts of racism that she sees all the time.

For example, Selena said, teachers “do not address white students saying the N-word in the halls.”

When a Black student reports that, “nothing gets solved,” she said. “No apologies. No teachers are sitting down saying it’s wrong.”

“When that continuously happens, it’s like, we might as well not even report it anymore because no one really cares.”

White teachers should not be touching Black female students' hair and asking them if their hair is real while making comments such as: but your type of hair doesn't grow.

On Instagram, Students Speak Up YCDSB shares stories from students who say they’ve experienced acts of racism in the halls of their schools. (Image credit: studentsspeakupycdsb/Instagram)

The board responds

The school board did not respond to specific allegations of racism.

But board staff said they launched a human rights, equity, diversity and inclusion advisory committee in June, which involves students, parents, staff and community partners.

They said specific concerns can be sent to the Office of Human Rights, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and that those complaints will be kept confidential.

The board also said it has launched surveys to measure the needs of each school.

“Through unlearning and learning, our goal is to help our school communities begin to move forward toward greater understanding, mutual support and healing," the board said in its email.

Abisola Asha, left, and Malik Scott, right, used to go to schools run by the board. They started Students Speak Up YCDSB in the hopes of staring a dialogue with board officials. (Image credit: CBC News)

Next steps

Selena said she wants board staff to share their plans in a way that students can actually understand.

“The board should send out a statement addressing students directly. Usually, if they have something to say, it goes to teachers. It goes through a grapevine and doesn’t feel sincere.”

Here are some of the other things that walkout organizers are asking for:

What’s the timeline?

Selena said these and other change needs to happen now, not in the months and years to come.

“We can’t wait until the next school year,” Selena said.

She said she would like to see concrete changes on the ground by January or February, at the latest.

In the meantime, she has a message for her fellow Black students:

“They need to understand that they shouldn’t be nervous or scared to speak up about the issues that they’re facing,” Selena said. “Their stories are important.”

With files from CBC News

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