On June 17, NA for Change arrived at the virtual boardroom to advocate for an increased vigilance on the part of the North Allegheny School District when it comes to the issues of diversity, inclusion, and antiracism–to advocate for the students who have felt instances of an unwelcoming environment in their classes–for change in the spirit of North Allegheny’s tradition of excellence.
Since then, we have looked forward to collaborating with the school district in good faith. On July 2, we had the fortune of meeting with members of the North Allegheny school board and administration to discuss concrete steps the school district can and must take towards paving a more inclusive future in the Tiger community.
Since then, we have co-sponsored a Virtual Concert for Racial Justice with the NA Social Justice Club and the Multicultural Student Union. We heard the voices and talents of North Allegheny students, past and present, and learned about the power of a youth voice, a community, and the potential for progress.
Since then, we have communicated with other students in the area who are just as galvanized as we are in ushering in our era of inclusion–students from all over the Greater Pittsburgh area, united by a shared hope and motivation to impact the community and empower voices.
Since then, we participated in another meeting with North Allegheny, where we have been able to give input and feedback on the plans the school district has worked on, and as we’ve privately communicated, we are excited and ready to support any positive and meaningful changes coming from the school district.
And in addition to all of this, we have continued to post regular mini-lessons on our social media platforms to educate the community on the critical issues of social justice: namely discrimination, diversity, and anti-racism. These platforms, along with our website, have allowed us to begin teaching what we are confident will be taught in the classroom.
We would like to begin by saying how grateful we are for the recent strides North Allegheny has made in committing themselves to antiracism. The district has taken steps in a positive direction by updating and consolidating policies on sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as by making other plans that will assist in carrying out the goals that were created in collaboration with NA for Change. We would like to thank the administration and the members of the NA community who have fought so hard for these changes, especially during such a hectic year.
We would like to delve deeper into the plans that are being implemented, but we are waiting on the district to publicly release what was shown to us. It is to the benefit of the district that they release their plans, so that the NA community can recognize their commitment to antiracism.
The plans for progress we have seen take time to implement, and so in that vein, we look forward to continuing to give feedback where needed, cooperate where we can, and serve as a reminder to the district of the important work that needs to be done.
Tonight, other members of NA for Change, as well as our supporters, will be addressing statements made by former and current NA students that go directly against the district’s principles of inclusion and excellence. We will clarify NA for Change’s goals and the district’s responsibilities, which go hand in hand in making NA a welcoming environment for all students. We have already addressed the progress that has been made and expressed our gratitude, but we will make clear that now is the time to demand more from our district and the members of the board. We invite students, parents, and community members to call in tonight and voice their support, to demand more right alongside us. As members of the NA community, I’m sure we all know that we are held to a certain standard–tonight, we will ask that the board be held to the same standard.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak this evening. All communities are strengthened when the members of the community can make their voices heard, and we are grateful for a platform to advocate for change that will positively impact students in the generations to come.
NA For Change sees its purpose as two-fold, and seeks to inspire in this school district as well as in the surrounding community. Yet, we have noticed recent external and implicit developments that we strongly believe are of serious concern; and in fact, are so troubled by them that we felt we had no choice but to publicly rebuke them and reaffirm where we stand. To tell the truth, we had no plans to speak before all of you this month while we monitored the implementation of aspects of the district’s plan to tackle the issues we’ve championed.
On September 4th, the NA for Change Instagram account released a post highlighting previously-released student testimonials which detailed past hostility and discrimination students have faced at the hands of their peers because of their race, ethnicity, or religion. Listed were firsthand accounts of students encountering racial slurs, hateful images and symbols, and aggressions from their peers, often met with indifference and inaction. This was a post that was meant to bring awareness to these issues and give a platform to the students who have dealt with them. This post sparked a discussion in the comment section underneath that surprised even us. Let us read some of them aloud and verbatim.
In reference to a testimonial:
In response to this comment, someone replied:
The original commenter replied,
In another comment, someone wrote:
And in another series of comments referencing finding swastikas on a desk and feeling unsafe, someone wrote:
We were especially disturbed to see these ignorant comments were all made on a public forum by NA students, past and present. A few of them are in NA high schools now, and were happy to post these opinions under their real handles.
This is not a political discussion. This is not “political correctness.” This is not up for cheap political punches. This is about respecting the dignity of an individual. Let us be clear: there is no place for hate, but there is also no place for indifference.
It is the responsibility of the district to ensure that every single student understands the true meaning and repercussions of excusing deplorable behavior as “jokes”. We can say what we want about the role of the home environment. We can discuss–at length–the initiatives and multitude of awards the district has been presented with. But at the end of the day, this school district has stated that:
High expectations. Our question is, How high are these expectations? Can the board confidently say that the students who made these comments are being held to high expectations?
The district obviously cannot control the comments on an Instagram page of a group not affiliated with North Allegheny. However, it is absolutely worth considering why so many students attending one of the highest-ranking public school districts in the country remain so woefully uninformed and insensitive to the issues that are central to the lives of marginalized groups.
Surely, the student remarking that he doesn’t know anyone who hasn’t made an Asian joke has not had adequate education on what is acceptable when treating others. The inexcusably ignorant comments left by certain NA students and alumni underscore the need for improvements in the aspects of antiracism, with the expectation that students are held to high expectations.
The call-in portion of a school board meeting is arguably the most important part. It serves as a public forum that welcomes the experiences of all community members and takes their ideas seriously. On several occasions, our ideas have not been met with the same respect we’ve introduced them with. For example, at a previous school board meeting, a parent called in and said “The demands that these students have just proposed are Marxist and really wrong for our society. There are a lot of things that they have expressed that are just not of value.” This community member is not alone in his harmful belief, as many others have given into devious and misinformed Red Scare tactics instead of listening to the devastating testimonies that students have bravely shared. Like many youth movements before us, our efforts to bring about needed change are being undermined by certain people in positions of power and those they appeal to. These people, who reject necessary change and withhold compassion for the marginalized, have gone out of their way to distort our message–which has consistently been about empowerment and education. This behavior and the beliefs that embolden it are appalling and we condemn them to the highest degree. In the spirit of transparency, we once again are here to affirm who we are and what we aren’t.
NA For Change is a coalition of North Allegheny students, alumni, parents, educators, and community members working to place the issue of racism at the forefront of the district’s attention. We advocate for the immediate and long-term implementation of anti-racist action to benefit everyone, especially those who have historically been left behind. We have no hidden agenda or affiliation. Each and every member and supporter comes from a different background with different political views. The common ground we share is built on our values of anti-racism and demands for a truly inclusive learning environment. In order for students to be well-rounded citizens, our schools must reflect our holistic, technicolored world. There is no shortcut or extracurricular program around this. Our mission is not to lead the proletariat revolution, but to update the district’s practices to best reflect the diverse aspects of our society.
As much as we are committed to doing this work, it is ultimately the school’s responsibility and in the school’s power to implement researched recommendations. We don’t exist out of want, but out of need.
Black Lives Matter. No ifs, ands, or buts.
The fact that this statement alone has drawn up more controversy in our community than the rampant racism across North Allegheny School District is frustrating, but not shocking to those of us who have felt unrepresented and unprotected in its hallways. We will not allow our support for our Black classmates and other classmates of color to be harnessed for divisive purposes. We hope you won’t either.
Lastly, we strongly believe in leading by example. We know that as a nationally renowned school district, North Allegheny shares this belief. It is reflected by its passion for athletics and arts. We’re asking for this investment to include North Allegheny’s culture. Additionally, leaders themselves must reflect the best values of our community. Whether it be fellow students, parents, teachers, elected officials, the Student Council, or even line leaders in elementary schools, we all have a responsibility to act on our better angels and contribute to the betterment of our school district. Please do not mistake our criticism for ingratitude. We know progress has been made and are enthusiastic about what’s to come. Knowing that we can achieve more and sooner must also be in our scope of reality. That is why me and countless others are compelled to call for more. We know that some of you already shared this urgency and hope that now, others do too.
If you are not moved to action after seeing students and alumni advocate for the evolution of North Allegheny so that every student feels represented, welcomed, and empowered, then you cannot meaningfully represent our district.
If you dismiss our calls for justice, in or beyond this boardroom, or distort a message for harmful reasons, then you cannot truly serve the people of your community.
NA for Change was created largely in part because we were unsatisfied with the handling of racism and discrimination. We are not going away until the district as a whole, including the board, demonstrates a clear understanding of these issues and supports proportionate solutions. We are once again asking for bold action and consistent transparency to create an inclusive learning environment for the next generation of NA Tiger excellence.