DEI in Action
If you are reading this blog, you most likely found us through social media. If you follow the official DASD Facebook page, you probably noticed the huge uptick in diversity focused posts these past two years. The DEI office, the Cultural and Equity Task Force (CETF), and the CETF Social Media subcommittee have been hard at work making and sharing content on the many minorities that reside here in our district: general awareness or support, holiday related, traditions, philanthropy, etc… The benefits of this information is immeasurable…the more we know about each other, the more we realize that Yes, we do have a lot in common as humans, And we also have different struggles. This promotes empathy and encourages us to become allies.
Because we also see the negativity…comments like “where is the straight pride?” or “What about A Day in the Life of a Christian student?” These comments certainly miss the point of the term Equity, and the more of us who DO understand and stand up for our marginalized people, the less empowered these haters will feel to display their ignorance (they are already dying down…so let’s keep moving in that direction!) These comments are so harmful to the people who receive these messages not just through social media, but also in real life in our schools. The more they see that WE are here for them, the more empowered they will feel to be their authentic selves…and we all know that living our lives authentically is critical to safeguarding mental health.
Why focus on Muslim students?
It was brought to the attention of the DEI office that a Muslim listening session was needed in 3 ways:
- During several meetings with the MSA (Muslim Student Association) it was requested.
- In the Jan-March Board meetings where the Muslim population came to the board and asked to be considered for EID (holiday) and to get more support within our district (information and education), it was clear that more education was needed.
- As part of a community conversation with (50+) Muslim Families, they asked for the listening session.
In comparison, we are willing to bet that any formal requests for a white or Christian listening session has come from very few people (if any at all). Because let’s be honest…how many white Christian students have ever heard their families accused of being violent terrorists? This is a great example of using DATA to decide where to focus our resources. This does not mean that other groups won’t be getting similar attention in the future. It just means that right now, our data shows that Muslim students have a greater need.
NOTE: If anyone does know of kids being bullied or spoken to inappropriately, for any reason, please bring it to someone’s attention. It needs to go on record in order for our data to be accurate.
A Day in the Life of a Muslim Student
On Monday, April 26 we heard from seven Downingtown students (15 were originally planned for) on the reality of being Muslim here in Chester County. They spoke for approximately 30-40 minutes, bravely recounting stories of times when they found their people being portrayed in a negative way or as the butt of a joke. After this, the floor was opened up for questions and observations by the audience. There were at one point 76 people in attendance…76 people who either were Muslim or were taking the time to educate themselves on how our Muslim friends experience life. We find this incredibly encouraging.
One student said that “three months ago, if we had been told that this night would have happened here in DASD, we would not have believed it. Other school districts should do it too.” It was a true testament to the positive impact that our DEI office has been having on our students.
What are their struggles?
We primarily heard about how misconceptions portrayed by the media of the Muslim people spill over into our schools. There were many mentions about how they are told by classmates and teachers that the Muslim people are all violent terrorists.
One student recounted an experience in middle school where a teacher showed a video of a Muslim celebration and said that they were celebrating 9/11 (it was later determined that the video was of a celebration that was NOT related to 9/11); this was just within the last five years. The student shared how deeply it bothered her, knowing that this teacher would be showing this to all of their classes and that students trust their teachers to tell them the truth…leading to a perpetuation of misinformation among her peers.
Another student shared that they feel that people don’t always make an effort to try to say their names properly. Even when the proper pronunciation is shared with them, there is still not much effort put into correcting themselves, indicating a lack of caring.
We learned a little about Ramadan, and how they fast for a month from sunrise to sunset. This means that in school, the children who are observing this practice do not eat lunch, but they still feel that they have to go to the cafeteria. One parent said that her mom used to be a teacher (not in DASD) and she was known to offer her classroom to the students observing Ramadan so that they would not feel “othered” during lunchtime. It has been mentioned that some schools are making this option available to kids, and it would be great to do this more uniformly across the district. It was nice to hear the back and forth conversation between the Muslim students and the allies in an effort to provide support and safe spaces.
One person pointed out that he feels bad that there is a misconception that the Muslim people do not have respect for other religions. On the contrary, what Mohammed says in the Quran is that “temples, synagogues, and churches are all houses of God and they should all be protected.”
The conversation really revolved around how our Muslim friends are treated by non-Muslims and how that treatment impacts them as students. The students spanned different backgrounds…from living in other areas of Chester County before coming here, to their genders and ages and how closely they follow their faith. Their common thread was their earnest desire to set the record straight about the the religion of Islam being a peaceful one and that the myths propagated regarding extremists are a source of great pain for them. They were clearly very grateful to the non-Muslims in attendance for wanting to know them as people.
One non-Muslim parent mentioned that “It is up to those of us who are the dominant ones, the ones who created the system the way it is, to make sure it becomes a welcoming place for those who are not yet feeling welcome..” We love this comment because it highlights the importance of ALLIES.
Call to action: Become an ALLY
Our ultimate goal is and always should be to continue educating ourselves to create a more empathetic world, so here is our call to action:
- Read up on the data (link here). Share the info with your friends and family and let them know why DEI is absolutely critical in both educational and corporate settings.
- Make suggestions. We are eager to see more marginalized communities highlighted by the DEI office, and if you have an idea for one, please raise your hand and help make it happen!
- Attend a session. Participating in listening sessions such as this one is the best way to start to bridge the divide. It was so open, civil, and the kids were extremely happy to answer all of our questions.
- Write to your school board member and tell them why DEI is important to you. This goes not just for ethnic and religious communities, but also neurodiverse and disabled ones.
- Go to a school board meeting. We are still seeing a few keyboard warriors and haters at school board meetings, and our school board reps are definitely counting who is PRO and who is ANTI. The more support our DEI office can get, the better! The next committee of the whole is on Wednesday, May 4th, and the next voting meeting is Wednesday, May 11th. We’ll share more details as they approach.
- Join a committee! Any of the CETF meetings are open to the public for anyone to join, as well as any of the 9 subcommittees under the CETF. If you don’t want to join an “Official” subcommittee but have a great idea on how to bring about awareness…simply reach out to Justin Brown or your respective school administrators to share how you would like to support this work.
We hope that with some more work and collaboration with our DEI office, this school district can become a safer place for ALL of our students, where everyone can live their authentic lives. You can tell from the social media narrative that the antis are retreating as they realize that their hate has no home here…there are fewer of them commenting and any time they do, the Positive squad swoops in to put them in their place. Let’s all work together to become and stay ALLIES for GOOD!