Haley didn't listen to the students' side

Opinion: Columns

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By Paul Goyette

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I am disappointed in Dan Haley's recent piece [Fostering, containing student protests, News, March 6] about how he thinks the recent walkout and subsequent actions by District 200 and students fit into the picture of equity work at OPRF High School. 

As someone who's been present for many of the events of the past week and a half as a supporter of these student activists, I am skeptical that he has even spoken to Antoine Ford or any of the others involved in these protests. He raises up the work of BLU and SAFE but fails to recognize that those are the very same leaders who (with others) engaged in the walkout and subsequent protests. 

He makes no attempt to understand or communicate students' side of the conversations which have taken place with the superintendent, instead dismissively explaining that Dr. Pruitt-Adams's efforts "have not taken" with Antoine Ford. Given how difficult it is to engage young black men in this work — OPRF senior Michela Anderson heart-wrenchingly described "picking up the broken pieces of black boys" at a recent SAY Connects event co-sponsored by Mr. Haley's publication — shouldn't we be listening when there is an opportunity, rather than pushing our own notion of "effective methods"?

Most disappointingly, he presents recent progress in equity work as the result of the efforts of the superintendent and board president (his pick for Villager of the Year in 2018). While they have certainly played important roles, Mr. Haley's narrative misses the steadfast efforts of community members who have organized around getting the board to adopt an equity policy and hire more teachers of color. 

And of course, he misses the contributions of the students themselves, which he sees as having been fostered by Dr. Pruitt-Adams and Dr. Moore. He states the superintendent "basically invited" students onto the stage at an America to Me-related forum. Well, I was present at the back of the auditorium that day to witness the current director of Campus Security physically bar the door when students tried to enter the auditorium and then shoved the first individual who was able to pass through. 

If the superintendent and board president's engagement with students is what led to the student-written curriculum for an equity course, how is it that the school principal dismissed the curriculum entirely, and it was only after a board meeting where dozens of community members showed up, at the explicit request of students, that work began in earnest to make these students' plans a reality?

Haley closes with what sounds to me like an either-or proposition with either school administrators or faculty/staff leading students toward change. He seems unable to imagine the possibility that students themselves could be driving these efforts, that they could be the ones who understand the problems they face and have the courage and commitment to organize. 

This makes me sad, because I have met them, I have seen them in action, and I know that they are their own best advocates.

Paul Goyette is an Oak Park resident.

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