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Home Schools 7,000+ Sign Petition Urging Racial Awareness & Diversity at Rye High School

7,000+ Sign Petition Urging Racial Awareness & Diversity at Rye High School

Change.org petition on racial awareness & diversity w-in Rye High School

A petition created by a recent Rye High school graduate to “promote racial awareness and diversity within the Rye High School student body and faculty” has garnered over 7,000 signatures since it was started only one week ago.

Zachary Gaouad
Zachary Gaouad

The petition, created by Zachary Gaouad (RHS ’19), says lack of action is “promoting the subsistence of racism and xenophobia, as experienced by many of our nonwhite students” and puts forth a proposal with eight specific action items. The letter and petition takes The Rye schools and Superintendent Eric Byrne to task for its lackluster responses to both Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd killing as well as its current response to its petition and letter detailing a proposal to address the issues of racial awareness and diversity in the school.

View the petition here and see the entire letter submitted by the petitioners to the Rye schools just below:

“To the Rye High School Administration and Rye City School District Board of Education:

Rye High School was founded upon the basis of “pursuing excellence”, as its mission states. The recent injustice surrounding George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breanna Taylor (among innumerable others) has sparked a social movement whereupon the voices of black students and people of color are finally being heard. We, as Rye High School alumni, ask that Rye High School beg the question: are we doing enough to preserve the moral compass we strive to achieve through our very mission. 

Based on data reported by the NYS government, Rye’s student body is 82% white, and 1% black. Given such racial discrepancy, you would assume that Rye High School would attempt to provide more diversity, whether through hiring diverse faculty, or diversifying the student body itself. However, in all our years at Rye High School, very rarely have we been taught by a person of color. Such a development places emphasis upon the fact that we, as a community, are not doing enough to educate our students upon the many hardships students of color may experience. As a result, we are promoting the subsistence of racism and xenophobia, as experienced by many of our nonwhite students. Students may not even be aware of their own racism, as it is either ‘implicit’ or ‘explicit’. Since the black community was so greatly outnumbered by white faculty and students, experiences were never truly understood nor heard. 

To give an example, some of us have been told we ‘act too white’ for a ‘black person’. Such microinvalidations and microinsults adhere to unjust stereotypes, and invalidate our own identity. Thus, they perpetuate the very racial injustices plaguing America as we speak. When did we ever question the ‘whiteness’ of our fellow students? Our experiences should emphasize how much of a privilege it is to be white in a privileged place like Rye, NY. We need to listen to the voices of Rye’s 1%. Although we are thankful to have attended a wonderful high school, we ask that: Rye implement structural changes, attract more diverse faculty and students in order to make sure its student body is not left with tunnel vision. If not now, then when? We are at a critical point in American history, and now, more than ever, change is necessary. No longer can we stand idly by as our mixed and black students are left marginalized. We need our students to broaden their perspectives. Rye needs to abide by its very mission, because leaving students shielded from reality only hurts them in the strive for “excellence”. 

We would also like to touch upon how weak Rye High School’s response has been in regards to the #blacklivesmatter movement surrounding black injustice. In its email dated June 2nd, 2020, not once did Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne condemn the murder of George Floyd or express support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The email was so brief, and the furthest it went was to say “many of the images are difficult for children (and adults) to process and could result in anxiety or fear.” Most schools have condemned the violence and expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Furthermore, the email was sent to parents, not students. Rye High School is supposed to educate its students, not shy away from enumerating the injustices facing the country it stands under. In this case, Rye’s response was far from “excellent”. It was condemnatory. This is another problem that stems from a lack of diversity, because it becomes uncomfortable for a white superintendent in a white school to address a black issue. “If we have no black students, why does it matter?”

We must not stay silent. We must not teach our students to be silent. We ask Rye High School to ponder what message it sends students through inaction. Anti-Apartheid activist Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As an academic institution pledging “excellence”, Rye High School must act as the example, not the oppressor. 

Maybe we are being harsh with our words, but we are legitimately upset, and rightfully so. And everyone should understand why by now. As an academic institution, Rye should work to amplify the voices of its marginalized students. 

Throughout our years at Rye High School, never was that the case. Our classes offered little to no black literature. When we read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the eighth grade, our teachers seemed to beat around slavery’s bush. When we were taught about slavery and segregation in US History classes, that also remained the case. For instance, in some of our 11th grade APUSH class, we were forced to undertake a North vs South debate, where we would play out the roles of confederate figures against former slaves like Dred Scott. Basically, white and black students were asked to play the role of someone “justifying slavery.” How uncomfortable do you think it is for a person of black descent to get assigned Robert E Lee? 

Slavery and segregation were briefly touched upon and intertwined within big units. It becomes uncomfortable to talk about slavery and segregation when classrooms are filled with, if ever, a single person of black descent in the back. Not properly educating students only perpetuates the racial tension millions have gathered to protest against. Also, never were we taught about contemporary black issues. Never were the likes of–Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown,  Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile– remotely mentioned. 

In order to progress, we must also call things for what they are. There is no “side” to pick. Nobody, including faculty, can act “defensive” and say “well I did this, or I did that…” No. Because you are most likely not black. All of us of black descent feel this way, so what we say is not unwarranted, because it can only be the truth.

On that note, we would love to address several proposals we have to address our concerns. We have written this petition united with certain alumni of the Saint James Boarding School in Maryland, who have outlined these specific requests, which we also ask Rye High School to consider: 

  1. Require texts and discourse during all four years of the English curriculum with an intersectional focus addressing racism, sexism, orientation, xenophobia, privilege, allyship and activism. Examples of intersectional authors include Kimberlé Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherie Moraga.
  2. Revamp the US History Curriculum to address the struggles of marginalized peoples in the US, including but not limited to the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Tuskegee syphilis study, the Stonewall Riots, and an increased focus on the oppression of Native American people.
  3. Train faculty, through programs such as those offered by the Center for Racial Justice in Education, to be leaders and role models in anti-racism and intersectionality for students and to guide discussions around race and racism on a regular basis.
  4. Address racism in the school’s past and introduce intersectional diversity training as part of the curriculum; most students do not realize how pervasive the issue is throughout Westchester County.
  5. Add explicit language to the school handbook condemning discrimination, bullying, or hate speech by students on the basis of any protected characteristic, and outlining punishment for these offenses. 
  6. Implement and reinforce emotional/mental health resources on campus as safe, effective, and confidential spaces for students to disclose instances of identity-based injustices on campus. Such identity-based injustices include, but are not limited to, sexism, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, racism, xenophobia, and socioeconomic disparity.
  7. We ask that this letter be shown to Rye High School freshmen at the beginning of every school year because not enough people in Rye hear from people of color. How beneficial do you think showing this letter to a student of black descent would be to remind them they are not alone? How beneficial do you think showing this letter would be to the white student body at Rye in the pursuit of “excellence”?
  8. Make a considerable effort to attract a more diverse student body and faculty

To provide an anecdote:

I, Zachary Moulaye Gaouad, am half-black and was subjected to tinges of racism throughout my high school years. I would try to hide my curls, and sometimes wished I could erase the colors from my face. If I did call my friends out on blatant instances of racism, I would just be brushed off as “overreacting” or “overly sensitive”. No white person seemed to realize that they could never relate, and I place partial blame on Rye High School for that, because Rye is a far cry from the real world. It is a shield from it, which is somewhat dangerous. I will not shy away from saying Rye is an almost impenetrable bubble. I didn’t feel supported by faculty. I didn’t feel supported by my fellow students. Going to Rye High School most definitely hurt my self-esteem, and it took courage to say that. To my fellow white Rye High School students, past and present: “not everyone is white like you”, “not everyone sees the world through your privileged white perspective”, and “listen to me!” An important step towards progress is acknowledging your own privilege, and listening to people who have dealt with instances of racism. Since Rye High School could never tell you that, I decided to take it upon myself.

On that anecdotal note, we ask that you realize how pressing the issue at hand is. We must not wait. We must not brush things off. We must act, before anything, as a unified Rye community. Please listen to us. 

This was Dr. Eric Byrne’s response:

Dear Zachary,

Thank you so much for having the courage to compose and send the letter about race and inclusivity earlier today. I look forward to creating the structure and opportunity for our community to begin having significant conversations and to explore ways that we can grow, improve and become more inclusive for all. I know there is much work ahead and we are committed to the task. Again, many thanks.

Best regards,

Eric Byrne

Dr. Eric Byrne needs to take accountability for not doing more. The least Dr. Eric Byrne could do would be to acknowledge the struggles we, as the silenced 1%, all faced under his oversight. The least Dr. Eric Byrne could do would be to provide clarifications and specific updates as to how he will implement our important demands. The least Dr. Eric Byrne could do is to offer furthering this critical conversation with ALL of the drafters of this letter. Not once did he apologize. Not once. We write this entire proposal, and he provides us with the most lack-luster response (8 lines). I sincerely hope for the sake of the black and brown kids of Rye High School, that the decision for this proposal not be left in his hands alone. Our proposal needs to be heard by the entire school board, and put up to a vote. We need to be effectively represented by people that mirror our experiences and truly understand them. We need to be included in this conversation. We feel bad for the nonwhite students of Rye High School, because again: their voice is being silenced by a white majority. We are not sorry if the truth hurts. Dr. Eric Byrne is still neutral, and his silence speaks volumes. He sent out another email to the Rye High School community, and still hasn’t expressed any support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. We are so thankful for some of the teachers at Rye High School, who have expressed support for our cause. Unlike others, they have demonstrated the moral conscience and moral responsibility to advocate for meaningful change.

Sincerely,

Zachary Moulaye Gaouad ‘19

Dezie Udeagha ‘18

Alaire Kanes ‘19

Iman Syed ‘19

Kirsten Daley ‘19

Ian Quinones ‘19

Mehdi Gaouad ‘19

Sasha Spitz ‘19

Paul George ‘19

Alex Kirk ‘19

Mika Jones ‘20

Requests taken from: Agyeman, K., Chang, W., Iqbal, D., Jenkinson, N., Ludwick, L., McEvoy, K., Mehala, A., Walendom, J., & Yang, A. (2020, June 3). A letter to the Saint James community [open letter]. Retrieved from  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1H1w80eRdaM61UE472nOpnUcSaChTwxH0DXlY7aEoy0E/edit?usp=sharing

 

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