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We need to stand together to fix our schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

On Sunday I attended a rally in support of the Asian students at South Philadelphia High School.

It was a powerful and emotional event.

Several adult speakers told stories about how they had been harassed in high school because they were Asian, but they did not have the courage or support to stand up like the students from South Philly.

I was particularly impressed with the students for making it clear that they are most upset not at the other students, but at the School District for failing to create a safe environment in their school.

This is particularly important given the way that many people perceive the events. There is a tendency to view the Asian students as helpless victims and other students, especially African Americans, as violent monsters. I was dismayed to read comments on another blog that demonized African American students at South Philly High. I have spoken to many African American students and parents who felt understandably hurt by this portrayal. I give credit to the Asian student leaders for not falling into that trap.

It is easy for us to look at this situation as a battle between Asians and African Americans, where we must all choose sides. This is understandable given the long histories of oppression that both groups have endured. Many non-Asian or African Americans often feel pulled to take one side or the other, and thus accidentally promote the conflict.

The truth of the situation is that we still have schools where all students are at risk for being harassed and even beaten because of any of the ways they may be different, be it race, class, sexual orientation, size, or anything else. This happens to students of all races. While our schools should not be solely blamed for creating this dynamic, there is much more they can, and must, do to put an end to it.

Many of our high schools have dehumanizing conditions that could make the calmest people lash out in irrational ways. I don’t say this to excuse inexcusable behavior, but simply to say that if we truly want to solve this problem, we must address the overall culture and climate that exists in many of our schools.

So I congratulate the Asian student leaders from South Philly High for having the courage to stand up and say "no more."

I encourage the rest of us not to view this as a situation where we must choose a side, or compete for limited resources. Instead, we could all join with these students and stand together in saying that the culture and climate that exists in our schools is not good for anyone, and we must all come together to change it.

A great moment at the rally on Sunday occurred when six African American students from the Philadelphia Student Union took the stage and spoke in support of the Asian students and in favor of schools that work for everyone. Maybe the rest of us can learn something from these students.

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