In a guest opinion piece, Spencer Schultz, a Rye High School senior and member of the school’s task force on race, inclusivity and community, calls a recent article on the task force by Peter Jovanovich in the The Rye Record an “attack” and “nothing more than something designed to scare you”.
Jovanovich is not just any writer, he is the husband of Robin Thrush Jovanovich, the publisher of the newspaper. He has served on City Council and been a candidate for Mayor. He has a long history in educational publishing and consults with private equity in regards to investments in the sector.
By Spencer Schultz
In June during the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, an Instagram account was created, @bipocatrye, where current Rye students and alumni submitted accounts detailing their experiences of segregation and discrimination. Like so many others I was appalled by these stories and filled with a unique combination of rage and sadness. Soon an email announced the creation of a community task force charged with building a more inclusive environment. The task force is committed to carrying out an equity audit designed to study among other things school-level data on achievement, discipline actions, special education identification, academic + behavioral interventions, demographic data, and AP/college course enrollment. I quickly filled out an application submitting why I felt I should be a part of this community effort and on August 27 I joined a Zoom call with approximately 50 others.
These calls included concerned community members, teachers/administrators, students/alumni, and Natalie Zwerger and Luis Alejandro Tapia from NYU’s Steinhardt Center. And as many of you probably saw on October 23 The Rye Record published a piece by Peter Jovanovich on the front page attacking the task force. The article is deeply disappointing in its one-sided portrayal of the task force and it concerns me that a senior columnist at The Rye Record would write such an uninformed and cherry-picked article, despite not being a participant in any of the meetings. I would have expected better. Therefore I will dismantle this article piece by piece using slides from the same August 27th meeting they so ardently attacked.
- The article starts with an attack of one of our NYU guides, Natalie Zwerger, labeling her as a “critical race theorist” and claiming that, “an extensive reading of her writings reveals her beliefs that the United States is systematically racist; that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and its laws and politics are designed to sustain white supremacy.” Let me start by making it clear that our NYU guides are just that – guides. They are not the task force; they do not determine our decisions and are purely here to offer their perspective and experience in this complicated process as members of an institution who do this same activity with schools around the nation. Secondly, I have not once seen these views, if true, pushed in our meetings, making this attack irrelevant and nothing more than something designed to scare you so do not be fooled by The Rye Record’s attempts to radicalize the task force.
- The article immediately follows up with “According to participants, at the August 27 meeting, they were given a PowerPoint presentation that encouraged them to prioritize racial equity – equality of outcomes – over equality of opportunity.” and that “Racial equity, in the words of the consultants, ‘is the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares.’” This is one of my favorite quotes and seemingly suggests that we are fringe activists advocating for a sort of communist utopia. They also conveniently ditched the second half of that quote, “…how one fares”. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.” WOW, I know crazy right? Almost sounds like we want mmmmm what’s the phrase? Oh yeah. Equal opportunity regardless of race. I know. I know it’s kinda radical but what else would you expect from a bunch of crazed utopians like us.
- The article then goes on to state how a task force member challenged the “Steinhardt orthodoxy” by “labeling the Black Lives Matter organization as being ‘terrorist’ for endorsing looting and arson.” The article criticizes the task force for its reaction to this and claims that “Luis Tapia stated these ground rules: ‘If you don’t agree that America is systemically and structurally racist, you don’t belong on the task force.’” Allow me to break down these accusations in two parts. The article leaves out that this individual [a task force member] followed up with that “Black Lives Matter advocates for the killing of police officers.” This statement is blatantly wrong so obviously he was rebuked angrily by some members of the task force. But the article leaves out that several members of the force including myself proceeded to ask for an elaboration of this point to which the individual [a task force member] went on to state that BLM “has not criticized those who loot and commit arson wearing their logo.” He was then asked to provide evidence of these claims to which he responded, “there are articles and interviews out there” and then refused to answer any further questions. Upon researching his claims I believe he is referring to an interview with Ariel Atkins, a WNBA player in Chicago, who said she supported looting as a form of reparations and that it did not matter because the stores had insurance. Ariel Atkins is a single individual and to claim that she is representative of the movement at large is asinine. BLM is not a coherent organization that can be labeled and put into a box, it is an organic grassroots movement comprised of many different individuals, so how the “organization” is supposed to criticize looters is lost on me.
- Now finally the claim that Luis said “If you don’t agree that America is systemically and structurally racist, you don’t belong on the task force.” is false. In reality Luis stated that “if you don’t agree with the commitments of the task force, you don’t belong here.” These are the commitments of the task force:
- We are committed to making Rye schools a more inclusive, welcoming, and equitable learning environment for all stakeholders.
- We are committed to achieving this through concrete actions, not just words.
- We commit to continue to seek out and listen to feedback from our BIPOC students, alumni, and employees about their experiences with racism in the school community.
- We commit to support a thorough equity audit of district policies and practices to identify ways that they may have unfairly impacted BIPOC individuals, regardless of intent.
- We commit to creating an objective and transparent method of data collection to gather the information we need to guide our work.
- We commit to a set of agreed-upon norms that will guide our discourse during taskforce and subcommittee meetings.
Now you’ve probably realized this individual [a task force member] does not fulfill the criteria of a task force member and should probably not be a part of it.
Black Lives Matter is not a perfect movement, I’ve watched cops get hit with bricks, I’ve seen looters disgracefully and unproductively destroy businesses, and I’ve seen peaceful protesters charged and beaten by police. I, in no way shape or form, identify as a radical in any sense. Nevertheless, even I can see it is a movement that is desperately needed and if you have any questions as to why this work must be done in Rye, I highly suggest you download Instagram and read the posts on @biopicatrye – for admitting you have a problem is the first step to finding a solution. My only question left is this. Dear The Rye Record, why does this work scare you so much?
Publisher’s note: see Racial Bias at Rye High School Documented on Social Media Account, INTERVIEW: Experience of Bias Detailed by RHS ’18 Alum and INTERVIEW: Experience of Bias Detailed by RHS ’20 Alum.