Burlington School District hosts second monthly discussion on race and equity

Local News

Racial trauma might sound like a new concept. But for people of color, it’s a very familiar reality.

Zachary Key and Courtney Casper, mental health counselors at the University of Vermont, defined the term on a Zoom webinar Wednesday night.

“When we talk about racial trauma we’re really talking about an emotional overwhelm that prevents you from moving through the world in a way that feels comfortable, safe, and reasonable to you,” said Key.

More than 70 students, parents, and educators attended the meeting; a free, monthly event for members of the Burlington School District and the greater community.

“We know that systemic racism exists, and we know that schools perpetuate that,” said event creator and BSD’s Equity Instructional Leader Autumn Bangoura.

She says racism is ever present in the classroom in many ways.

“Be it the way that teachers behave towards students of color, deficit thinking…thinking those students might not be as successful, so working to not engage them as much,” said Bangoura.

Wednesday’s discussion was the District’s second webinar, but Bangoura said it’s not your traditional webinar.

“It was kind of like a family around the dinner table and so there was like a middle schooler and an eighth grader and the higher schooler was leading the conversation,” she said.

Burlington School District’s Director of Equity Henri Sparks says it’s time the community addresses and corrects racist behaviors.

“As we think about White Supremacy and systemic racism throughout our educational system, one of things we have historically not talked about is how it impacts the mental health of our students,” said Sparks. “So as we think of suspensions, as we think of the so-called achievement gap, as we think about students of color getting kicked out…we don’t give them a fighting chance to be successful.”

One by one, panelists talked about their experiences:

“I drop my son off at school and I get a phone call and he’s being put in the planner room because they say they don’t know how to control my son.” 

“When you treat people when they’re less than human, that impacts them from cradle to grave.”  

“I’m just trying to thrive in what the magic of Vermont could be. And something has to change, like yesterday, like a month ago, like decades ago.” 

Bangoura says after the panelists speak, participants can join separate breakout rooms to share their feelings and discuss these subjects matters further.

“Involving the community in these conversations is a sense of accountability,” said Bangoura.

These meetings are open to community members on Zoom.  There are three more coming up on different topics. The last one will be held in May.

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