Wadsworth students discuss race

Students at Wadsworth describe what it is like to be black in a predominantly white school district

BY EMILY KURTZ

When the 19th Amendment was passed, it became something of a symbol that represented the final few walls being broken down to reach civil equality for all. To black students at WHS, racism and prejudice both still exist. Six black students sat down on January 28, 2020 to discuss the unrecognized racial issues looming at Wadsworth.

Senior Aniya Harris came to Wadsworth from an Akron school in fourth grade. She explained how moving here presented a lot of changes for her, one including how to approach her teachers when they did not look like her.

“The hardest thing for me was figuring out how to keep going through school without teachers who looked like me,” said Harris.

Various students at Wadsworth High School attended an interview to share their experiences involving racial matters. Photo by Emily Kurtz.

Harris also spoke about how difficult it was to make friends when people already had her skin color to judge her by.

“There’s just a lot of cultural differences and I had to make friends,” Harris said. “It was just a little difficult to agree on certain things just so I could survive socially.”

Jayden Taylor, 11, who moved to Wadsworth from Barberton in third grade made it clear that even just a few miles made a big difference in terms of culture and how she was treated. While many of her teachers were white, the student population at Barberton still presented itself as more diverse. As she came to Wadsworth she noticed how she received a lot of questions that seemed to mock her.

“Moving here in third grade, a lot of boys would ask me questions that were really stupid like about the palms of my hands and why they were different, the questions changed over the years but it still goes on.” said Taylor.

Michael Jackson, a senior who moved to Wadsworth just last year, said that he has never really been faced with those types of questions. Jackson explained that he found friends through doing sports. As this topic came up in conversation some students commented on how they believed the cultural adjustments were different for women of color.

“The guys don’t really get anything like the girls,” said Arlena Arnold, 10. “I feel like they bully us more because they don’t think we really will fight back.”

The comments outside of the classroom are not the only things that these students have to face. Sometimes, the content covered while in class, with white teachers, has some of these students feeling awkward and out of place. When reading certain books or covering time periods involving slavery, some students feel singled out.

“We get stared at a lot,” said junior, Ollena Arnold. “Everyone will look back, I remember last year she [Arlena Arnold] had to deal with it a lot.”

Since many of these students moved to Wadsworth from districts that had multiple African American teachers, sometimes it feels hard to discuss race and personally connect with them. Nearly all of the students interviewed agreed that it is important for Wadsworth to look into hiring African American teachers.

“The last black teacher I had was while I was in Toledo,” said Arlena Arnold.

Her sister mentioned how sometimes her friends shy away from Wadsworth because of the large lack of diversity.

“I definitely think Wadsworth should hire black staff,” Ollena Arnold said. “I have black friends that’ll ask if they should come to Wadsworth Schools, and I’ll tell them yes, but then they’ll ask ‘Isn’t the ratio like 10:1?’ and then they’ll say they don’t want to.”

Even though Wadsworth is predominantly white, and the content in class sometimes feels awkward to cover, the general consensus is that race is still a very important topic to learn about.

“I think it’s important to learn about, but it’s also just weird when you’re the only one different in the class,” said Taylor.

Harris also had a similar opinion.

“I don’t mind talking about it, I think it’s good that people are trying to learn,” Harris said. “I think there’s maybe lack of care or level of ignorance when it comes to how to talk about race.”

Harris elaborated by giving an example of how confusing some people sound when they are trying to talk about race. Ollena Arnold spoke up about how it is hard to talk about racial issues at Wadsworth specifically when some students do not seem mature enough to handle the tough conversation.

As the meeting went on the question shifted to how teachers and even other students could possibly help the situation. Which some of the students saw as something that would be very difficult because of how conditions outside of the school setting can change the behavior of anyone talking about race.

“I think that’s hard because it’s sometimes based on how the student is raised at home, so the teacher can’t really control how the student reacts or talks about it,” Ollena said. “Berlin asked me the same question, but it’s so hard to say because it starts with the student.”

The students interviewed revealed that they hear the N-word often at Wadsworth while just walking from class to class.

“Even in the hallways kids in front of me will say it and then turn around and realize I’m there and then feel bad,” said Taylor.

The interviewees then revealed that people they consider friends will come up to them asking for the “N-pass”, which places them into what feels like a very uncomfortable situation.

“It’s just weird when someone comes up to one of us and says ‘do I have the N-pass’,” said Jackson. “They don’t need to be saying the N-word out of nowhere if they’re in front of us.”

While many students do not see that racial tensions still exist at Wadsworth, the six interviewed and even some others, live and deal with it every day. The hope to bring light and change to this subject still survives throughout the difficult situations that some of these students have to face.

3 thoughts on “Wadsworth students discuss race

  1. Aniya Harris!!!!
    I’m so proud of the woman you’re becoming! When you moved into my classroom in 4th grade, I knew you were someone special. I was so happy to see you receive Board Student of the Month. Even though you’ve changed a lot, I’d recognize those eyes and that smile anywhere!
    I saw an interview about a woman who said that she’d never had a teacher that looked like her. I stopped in my tracks! I had thought about how it might feel to go to school with mostly white children, but I hadn’t thought about what it might be like to never have a teacher that looked like you. Reading this article and your statement stopped me in my tracks again. Thank you for saying that and bringing some awareness to that part of your education experience.
    I can also relate to someone’s statement about racial issues being discussed in the classroom. I remember feeling uncomfortable teaching about Ohio’s involvement in The Underground Railroad. It is truly one of my favorite units to teach, because it is an opportunity to embrace diversity and bring some understanding to racial issues. It’s so hard to know how much to say to 9 and 10 year old children. If you have any positive or negative memories about how that unit impacted you, please let me know.
    I hope I became easier to approach, as your first teacher in WCS. I’m sad to hear about racial and prejudice situations you experience. It says more about that person than it does about you! Right!?!? Anyone that doesn’t think it exists, should remember that just because it hasn’t happened to them, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to someone else. The way you and your friends spoke in the interview speaks volume to your character. It’s exactly what I’d expect from Aniya Harris! 🙂 I’ll look forward to seeing what you do next!

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    1. Mrs. Haic, I appreciate and thank you for your willingness to talk about diversity and your consideration for the other cultures that exist in the world. Any opportunity to have a discussion always has a positive impact- even to 9 and 10 year olds. Thank you for creating such an environment. I’m looking forward to the future. 🙂

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  2. Good for you for writing this article. I was a minority student at Wadsworth and echo the sentiment of this article. Race relations was and still is an issue to be addressed in Wadsworth. This is one step toward addressing the issue.

    Like

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