Many people were shocked to hear in February that kids from a Dallas charter school endured racial insults during their trip to Texas A&M in College Station. More dramatic stories came out during a symposium on Friday sponsored by the Uplift charter school chain.
Four years ago, Ana Belmonte graduated from an Uplift high school. Her shock came soon after she got to the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota.
“I remember my first encounter in the classroom,” Belmonte says. “My professor asked me where my green card was and if I was from Mexico? I said no, I’m from Dallas. She was not kidding.”
Mind you, the instructor had already asked where the students were from. That wasn’t all. Belmonte says the teacher joked about her the rest of the class. She took her concerns to the school president.
“Is this something that should be permitted on campus? Is this the kind of culture we want to promote on our campus among our students? Because none of my peers stood up for me and they were all white college students,” Belmonte says.
Things began changing at St. Benedict, thanks to Belmonte and other Hispanic students speaking up.
Tracy Brown has run a diversity training business in Dallas for 25 years. She says despite improvements in race relations in and out of education, lessons always need to be relearned.
This idea we don’t need to talk about race or diversity because it’s done is a myth and a false belief,” Brown says. “We would never say we don’t need to talk about safety. We would never say we don’t need to talk quality improvement.”
Brown and educators sketched out some advice. For first generation and minority college students – like Belmonte - it helps getting in touch with the student or college diversity office. Find organizations on campus you can turn to if you need help. That way you won’t feel alone. Brown also says don’t be so shy.
“When you have a mix of students speaking up,” Brown says, “and being visible as people who are committed to treating everyone with respect, that’s what shifts the game.”
She says even for those who just see bad behavior, the question is, what can I do to change that?