Listening sessions held to address racism incident


Joan Kwon

Photo by Joan Kwon

Zay Yontz and Julia Kim

After a “disturbing image depicting racism” circulated social media, CPS staff members are holding four listening sessions on Nov. 16 and 17 in the PAC lobby, according to an email from Principal Jacob Sirna sent to the student body. RBHS counseling and administration already held four sessions between Nov. 11 and Nov. 15.

A CPS staff member who does not work for RBHS will be moderating each session while a RBHS counselor and administrator sit in. The sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday will occur during third and fourth blocks.

MAC Scholars leader, Mike Woods, attended both the sessions on Nov. 11 to hear students speak on their thoughts relating to the issue as he believes it is very important for students to have a place to speak openly.

“I believe me and you carry stuff, it’s a weight on your chest. We all have a responsibility in life, like you guys have school, [and] you can’t really concentrate and study in school. And we have household things,” Woods said. “When you don’t get those things that are bothering you off your chest, your whole life becomes cumbersome and complicated.”

There has already been a positive consensus on the listening sessions since they started Nov. 11, Woods said. Student leader of the equity coalition, senior Mikayla Nelson, said these sessions should become more common as a space for students to express their thoughts and initiate important dialogue.

“I think that allowing students to speak about how they feel in their school is so important. While all of these adults can say what they think, hearing from our minority students is so important because they are able to say how they actually feel at [RBHS],” Nelson said. “I think that having regular sessions like this is something that should be done because it really allows the student body to have open conversations about real topics happening in our school.”

This incident of racism caused a lot of controversy among the student body, Woods said, and action was taken immediately by administration. The sessions brought light to an ongoing conversation about what actions need to be taken to ensure that students feel safe. 

“I think there’s a bigger issue here. I think one of my biggest concerns out of this is I think there’s some people that aren’t bothered by it, and I think that’s alarming. I think everyone should be upset when they see something like that,” Sirna said. “It’s not that I want our student body to be upset, but I think if you see something that’s angry, you see something that’s hateful, I think that should make all of us a little uncomfortable to see hate demonstrated in that way.”

Sirna said these sessions work to build vulnerability amongst RBHS in the face of desensitization of racism in order to amplify the voices of students, as well as recognize how change is driven by both the administration and the student body. 

“Making sure that people are able to have their voices heard is so important in this change [of action]. Allowing students, parents and faculty to become more educated on topics they might not be as familiar with is a huge part of these changes [in driving community care],” Nelson said. “Making sure that people are being heard about their feelings and trying actively to change. I think that people need to recognize that it is going to take everyone in the [RBHS] community to make this change”

Woods reiterated that fighting hate incidents requires personal transformation alongside a community effort to grasp at the root of true justice. 

“We all want to see action. We are responsible for ourselves. We want to put something in motion, so we can move towards that,” Woods said. “The only way change is going to come is if people are willing to step outside of who they are and just take a look at the other side. Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.”

Did you attend a listening session? Let us know in the comments below.

Story by Zay Yontz and Julia Kim.