BEREA, Ohio — The Berea City School District Board of Education passed in July a resolution stressing the need for diversity, equity and inclusion, and rejecting all forms of racism and discrimination. One of the first steps involves listening and respecting others’ perspectives.
At the Sept. 21 board meeting, Berea-Midpark graduates shared stories of the racism they encountered as students in the district. Their recollections were uncomfortable to hear, but Board President Ana Chapman said it is necessary “to make the positive changes we’ve needed for a long time.”
“The purpose of this resolution, and the actions surrounding it, was to make sure we are listening and all voices are being heard, especially those of the underrepresented, be it by the color of their skin, their ethnic background, their special educational needs, or their sexual orientation,” Chapman said. “The district can’t go back and change the past, but we can listen and make the future better.”
Summer Husein, a 2020 graduate, remembered being treated differently because of her Palestinian heritage and Muslim faith. She said school food choices were limited due to her religion, and she felt “so left out” when Christian holidays were discussed in class. Husein began wearing a scarf in eighth grade.
“Some students gave me weird nicknames,” Husein said. “I was a ‘terrorist.’ I was called the wife, and daughter, of Osama bin Laden. While they were harmful (statements), I was more confused than ever.
“I grew up with these people,” she continued. “Why did they now view me differently? Because I wear a scarf on my head, and my religion and ethnicity were not visible (before).”
Emily, Erica and Callie Truong, graduates from 2013, 2016 and 2017, sent a letter to Chapman, which she read aloud. They acknowledged it “was not always easy” being an Asian American in the district.
“We were targeted because of our race,” they said, noting kids spoke to them in faux Chinese accents, pulled back their eyes to imitate Asian eyes, laughed during Chinese culture lessons, and made inappropriate comments about their homemade lunches and black hair.
They also remembered U.S. history classes “glossed over, or completely omitted, atrocities,” and the Native American curriculum did not address “the negative impact of white colonization.”
As for the student harassers, their actions left the Truongs feeling “bewildered and hurt.”
“But we accepted it because we thought experiencing such indignities was part of our lot in life as Asian Americans,” they said.
A newly created BCSD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee will meet beginning in October.
“To me, the biggest piece of this is hearing our students’ voice,” Superintendent Tracy Wheeler said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
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