Southlake Carroll School District Gets an “F” in Racial Equity
This country is experiencing a long overdue reckoning. George Floyd’s murder seemed a tipping point, inspiring people around the world to say in unequivocal tone, “Black Lives Matter.” Racism has no place here. Except in “The Bubble” of Southlake, Texas, where Carroll ISD’s school board would rather put a pause on progress and the protection of its BIPOC students.
When racist video footage surfaced in October of 2018 and February of 2019 with Southlake Carroll students’ use of the n-word, many seemed shocked at the level of racism still present in schools. As a 2004 graduate from the district, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Nothing has changed.”
I felt cautiously optimistic when Mayor Laura Hill told parents, “We had better wake the heck up,” and the school district announced the formation of a Diversity Council. However, any faint hope was dashed last night as the board of trustees convened to vote on aforementioned council’s 34-page Cultural Competency Action Plan (CCAP).
Knowing I was a former Carroll Dragon, a friend sent me a link to watch the meeting via live stream. Hours of public comments left me in tears. I recognized the pain in students’ voices as they shared their experiences of racism within school walls. The trauma I thought well-healed, having graduated and moved out of the suburb more than a decade ago, resurfaced as I remembered similar occurrences.
A teacher referring to me as “yellow” or a fellow student taunting me with repeated chants of “chink, chink, chink” from across the computer lab. Incidents I didn’t even realize at the time were unacceptable, because no one had ever taught me differently. When people would tell me, “Go back to China,” I hated my Korean features. I wished I could blend in—with the other White students, with my White parents and brother. And if I couldn’t, I just wanted to be invisible.
If only the student-led Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition had existed during my time at Carroll… although I can’t help feeling a heavy dose of guilt for not speaking up myself back then. Had their list of demands been actualized those years ago, my life might have looked completely different.
Carroll ISD could take a cue from their neighbors in Richardson, who had a similar incident, but faced the racism with accountability and action. Their students also demanded change, and in response, Richardson ISD’s Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion partnered with Young Leaders, Strong City to host a Teen Summit where “students convened for a day-long summit with a team of national and local justice advocacy leaders, teachers, and artists to engage in pivotal dialogue and inquiry about racial justice and equity.”
In June, Richardson ISD’s school board voted 7-0 to approve a resolution supporting the formation of a new Racial Equity Committee, which has been tasked with directly confronting, addressing, and dismantling systemic racism within the district. Superintendent Jeannie Stone said the committee will “put action behind the words of our Equity Policy – to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.”
Meanwhile, Carroll ISD’s board of trustees barely voted to acknowledge that it “received” the CCAP.
The CCAP’s contents are not revolutionary. The plan’s strategies are basic things like “develop students’ cultural competence to embrace diversity at all CISD campuses, and enable a culturally safe and respectful environment for students to value and practice inclusion.”
Wouldn’t this be something any parent wants for their child(ren)? Especially after hearing the gut-wrenching stories of the hate and bigotry young students of color had faced.
But instead, after bearing witness to these painful testimonies, some trustees (White men) laughed at their own incomprehension, trivializing the trauma and expressing confusion over terms like “micro-aggressions.”
It didn’t even seem like they understood what they were voting on, let alone the contents of the plan itself. They were grossly ill-prepared and—despite having had access to the document for at least 2 weeks—did not read it in its entirety.
Many student supporters of the plan, on the other hand, read it line by line. If last night taught us anything, it’s that the young people who spoke in support of the CCAP are more capable than the majority of trustees and should be empowered to lead themselves.
Trustee Matt Bryant—who joked that because he didn’t know what he was voting on, his vote was no—kept referencing the slow march to progress in defense of their inaction. “Tapping the brakes,” as he said. I would argue instead that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
But urgency in addressing racism is often difficult for White people in power (especially those lacking empathy) to grasp, as they do not feel its gravity so personally. It becomes even more so when others would deny its existence.
When I shared my own experience with racism as a former Carroll student on Twitter, I was asked, “If our system is so racist, how is it you and I both have jobs—where we get published I might add—and Carroll ISD has continued growth of minority students?”
First of all, an increasing number of BIPOC students in a racist system does not equal less racism. At best, it’s tokenism, but it likely means more young people are being exposed to said racism. To address his question about my career and writing opportunities, I would offer this for clarity:
Yes, Carroll ISD excels in its academic offerings. As a transracial adoptee, I benefited from my family’s White privilege and ability to afford a house in Southlake—a community designed to be exclusive (read: White)— whose mantra, Protect the Tradition, is nothing more than a euphemism for maintaining the status quo.
Years of micro-aggressions and racist experiences growing up in “The Bubble” led me to choose a college in Chicago, so I could escape. While studying at DePaul University, I learned Asian American history like the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment, and Vincent Chin’s murder in depth—from teachers who looked like me—for the first time.
They taught me about Yellow Peril, the Model Minority Myth, and most importantly—that racism is systemic, pervasive, and so much more than being called a “chink” by a classmate who didn’t know any better.
After healing from my own internalized racism and dedicating my time to activism and advocacy, I am now employed by Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, whose mission is to create a radically inclusive city by addressing race and racism through narrative change, relationship building, and equitable policies and practices.
I created VISIBLE Magazine, because I was tired of not seeing myself reflected or stories I could relate to in traditional media outlets. The idea came to me after a Public Voices session last year with The OpEd Project where an editor from our local paper implied that we would have no shot of getting our Op-Eds published unless we could appeal to her middle-class White male subscribers.
I am who I am and do what I do BECAUSE the system is racist. That doesn’t make it right.
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Stephanie Drenka is the Founding Editor of VISIBLE Magazine, Co-founder of the Dallas Asian American Historical Society, and a Facilitator/Coach with The OpEd Project.
Thank you so much for reading, Jen!
So very well written. As a former CISD student myself, I greatly appreciate your voice on this issue. I’m so sorry for what you have had to go through, and I’m so glad you are speaking up.
Thank you, Callie. Grateful there are so many of us speaking our truth and that social media/technology helps us hold them accountable now!
I loved the article. I’m a Southlake parent and my kids have shared with me some of the things said by student and teachers that are bothersome. One example is a teacher will not bother to learn how to pronounce a child’s name correctly.
Thanks for reading, Seth! Oh the continued mispronunciation of names… classic example of a micro-aggression. I’m glad your kids feel comfortable sharing those things with you and can recognize them as problematic.
Unfortunately, this article skews the facts a is full of the same “micro aggressions” that to which the trustees and parents referred. I too, attended the meeting, and I have a different take. There were a group of people who claim to be former students and students, who do not pay county taxes, and yet they were allowed to be heard. Some have not lived in Southlake for many years. Specifically, those who spoke, did so in a “first come, first speak basis.” In other words, the order in which you spoke was the order in which you had submitted your request to speak. This group of students were all in a row, which indicates that it was a group (likely SARC) that got together sometime Sunday afternoon and submitted all of their speaking requests at the same time, so an organized response. Additionally, in each and every case, they read their statements and used the same key phrases. For example, almost all of them stated that they had an issue with parents that were asking for a delay using “Christianity” as an excuse. The problem though, is that not a single parent actually did this. It was very apparent, that these students’ statements we heavily scripted. One student did not even know what she was reading at the end of the speaker list.
Not a single parent on the call was against the CCAP, not one. What they were against is the language that the CCAP contained and lack of thoroughness and transparency. The biggest issue that came up was the definition of “micro aggression”, and that Kindergartners would be tracked through 12th grade for saying something that offended another student. While there are levels of offensive comments, there was no minimum defined in the CCAP. When Trustees asked about this, they were told that it would “up to the teacher” to decide, which is extremely concerning as the view points change from teacher to teacher. If a child in Kindergarten or first grade does not like another child’s hair color, is that a micro aggression? If a child points at another child, and the child at the receiving end of the point tells the teacher that a 6 year old pretended their finger was a gun, is that a major micro aggression or a minor micro aggression? What about the comments above, or some of the comments at the meeting where parents and students for the CCAP called those that wanted to delay it “racist” and “ignorant”, and many other names. Aren’t those the same micro aggressions that this article, commenters, and others are trying to stop? It seems to me that some of the parents for the CCAP should look in the mirror.
It also seems to me, that these people that are so gung ho for the CCAP to be just shived through without discussion with taxpayers should be happy at the outcome. These undefined “micro aggressions” work both ways. Don’t you think your own children get into arguments with other children over silly, childish things. Not a single parent said that the CCAP was a stupid idea. What they specifically said was that it was put out only 13 days prior, there is a COVID epidemic going on, teachers have to deal with going back to school with the epidemic, and there was more work that needed to be done on some definitions. And yet, you have a group of unhappy kids that are upset? People, the Trustees accepted the CCAP in case you did not actually attend the meeting or pay attention. They will now define “micro aggression” and other problems with it, before they implement it.
Finally, when Matt Bryant used the term “slow march to progress”, he was repeating exactly what one of the members of the DDC has said. Perhaps you should watch the video a bit more and you will see it.
I honestly don’t have the energy today to do the emotional labor required responding to each of your arguments. But I appreciate you taking the time to read my piece and share your thoughts. It is clear we both watched the meeting from different lenses and lived experiences. Which is why cultural competence (or I would argue further… anti-racism) training is absolutely necessary. Teachers, parents, administrators, and students should all have a common language and understanding. But equity must start at the policy level if it has any chance of being sustainable. I am also one of those former students who has not lived in Southlake for several years and is not a taxpayer. But like the others, I assume, I care about my hometown and want a better experience for the students of color who come after me. I don’t have kids of my own or any stake in the game, only a desire for no one to experience the trauma of racism that I did. And if sharing my story helps one person feel less alone, it is worth it to me.
*and if I did have kids, I would never bring them back to Southlake until I felt like they would have a safer experience than my time there.
What an uneducated coward you are, Chris. My name is Heather Poole. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I have lived in Southlake and Westlake (CISD schools) for nearly 12 years…is that long enough for you? We clearly didn’t watch the same meeting, nor have we had the same experience in the Southlake community, probably because I’m a Hispanic female, and you are…probably a white man. Two of the first three speakers were affiliated with Texas Values Action. Those speakers, along with many others, voiced opposition to the plan because of their claims that it threatens the Christian values of CISD students, doesn’t allow CISD parents to impart their (racist and bigoted) values that are not consistent with LGTBQ and the ludicrous suggestion that the CCAD will result in students being attacked for their religious beliefs. Moreover, your criticism of the brave students who spoke is disgusting…clearly, you have zero empathy for anyone but yourself, but I know that when I was a teenager/young adult with a limited amount of speaking time, I would have written down my comments (I would have done it as an adult). Do you get off on passive aggressive bullying of young people who actually want to make Southlake a better place for EVERYONE? And guess what? If you are opposed to the plan without a good reason (and there isn’t one), you are a racist. And you are a bigot. And clearly really uneducated, because “micro aggressions” are already a part of the student code of conduct. Finally, your suggestion that Matt Bryant is some kind of hero because either 1) he is a bald faced liar, or 2) he is such a terrible trustee that he couldn’t read a 34 page document (HIS JOB) and/or never spoke to his wife, a member of the DDC about her work over a period of 20 months, is ludicrous. Go back and get down into your ignorant, privileged, racist, bigot hole. We have work to do.
Apparently CNN and many others feel differently. Seems like the cat is out of the bag on a national level. I hope you are proud of your racist little town and all its “Christian” values.
As an inter-racial, inter-cultural, inter-lingual family here in Southlake, we reject the bullying, racism, and threats from cult-like political activists trying to force Democrat indoctrination on our nationally ranked schools, such as the student caste system, where students with the most victim classifications have the power to destroy college prospects of those they bully, and teachers are told to confess their racism. This is institutional racism times the number of victim classes recognized, and everyone can join in the bullying through self-identification. In our experience, and in the experience of the countess other diverse families of our friend, Southlake is an amazing melting pot of enriching cultures, creating the most accepting, pro-family, culture we’ve ever seen … the Dragon culture. We are all Dragons and our color is Dragon Green.