On Racism at Classical

By The Editorial Staff

June 4, 2020

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Foreword: The Classical Chronicle was recently made aware of a racist post made on social media by a Classical student. This piece will not discuss the specific incident, nor will we name the student themself. It is too easy to condemn a student for using historically significant racist symbols rather than addressing underlying systemic racism within the Classical community. Instead, this is a call for Classical to address racism head-on and take action to prevent future racist incidents. Thank you for your continued support and readership.

For more than a week, people across the United States have been taking to the streets to protest systemic racism. These protests were spurred by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Race-based police brutality and systemic racism have become an increasingly prominent part of public discourse. Classical must also reflect on how racism has fractured our school. We can take advantage of this important turning point in history to address racism in the Classical community.

First and foremost, Classical’s faculty and staff should reflect the diversity of the student body. Teachers of color help close the achievement gap for students of color, and yet three out of four Providence teachers are white, while nine out of ten Providence students are minorities. Classical has very few teachers of color and not a single administrator of color. Since three out of four Classical students are minorities1, hiring more teachers of color could both close the achievement gap and help educate students about racism. It is not surprising that students absorb the biases of their mostly white teachers. This racial underrepresentation combined with insufficient equity training encourages race based grading2, racially disproportionate discipline3, and racially inequitable classrooms4; it indicates the presence of systemic racism in our school and within the school district at large. The Chronicle would like to commend Superintendent Peters for taking steps to reduce systemic racism in Providence Schools. According to a June 1st open letter to the community, the school district is “developing and expanding educational practices that are anti-racist, culturally responsive, and sustaining.” While this is a step in the right direction, this district needs to change its curriculum and hiring practices in order to truly move forward.

Before we address individual student biases, we would like to first acknowledge a longstanding issue within the Classical Chronicle itself: we do not have a staff reflective of Classical’s diversity. As Classical High School’s only independent paper, it is unacceptable for us to have published fewer articles by students of color than by white students. As the editorial board for this newspaper, we would like to apologize to the Classical community, which we strive to serve. We are redoubling our efforts to recruit a more diverse group of writers and editors. Please consider joining us to make the Chronicle a paper that can truly speak to every Classical student. We promise to continue working vigorously to make the Chronicle a safe space for all Classical students not only in name, but in practice.

Combatting racism at Classical does not end with systemic solutions; white Classical students also have a responsibility to reflect on their own biases. Racism is not limited to blackface or the n-word. Implicit bias5 is far more common and more insidious. Topical examples of implicit bias include schools and police officers racially profiling people of color, hiring committees disproportionately accepting white applicants, and media outlets attempting to tone-police the way Black Lives Matter activists protest instead of emphasizing their cause. Publicly condemning usage of historically bigoted iconography is easier than changing oneself, but also ignores most of the problem. White students need to confront implicit racism as much as they have stood up to overtly racist social media posts in the last couple years.

Classical needs to address these incidents head-on. Last year, after a Classical student used racist language on social media, the administration tried to support the students by creating groups to heal the community. While this was a step in the right direction, these groups did not adequately address the issue of systemic racism. Although Superintendent Peters’ plan to introduce resources into schools is admirable, our next steps should be about more than just facilitating a conversation. We need reforms that promote representative diversity in the faculty and staff and incorporate lessons about implicit bias and racism into each grade’s curriculum. This issue can no longer be ignored by white students. None of the ideas expressed in this piece are original, they’re just necessary.

We need to fight racism where it is: everywhere.

For those who want to fight against injustice and inequality, there will be another protest in downtown Providence today at 4:30. Organizers say it will begin at Kennedy Plaza. The Chronicle advises everyone to be cautious: the police have been violent at previous protests, and attending this one may well be dangerous. Additionally, we advise readers to bring masks to the protest to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Please stay safe.

  1. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/rhode-island/districts/providence-public-schools/classical-high-school-17505/student-body 

  2. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/unequal-opportunity-race-and-education/ 

  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/us/politics/school-discipline-disparities-white-black-students.html 

  4. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/cover-inequality-school 

  5. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/ 

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