Following is the letter to the Pitt County Board of Education from 2021 D.H. Conley High School graduate Abigail Yoon titled: PCS Student Awarded 1M+, Attending Harvard in the Fall, Voices Concern About Equity and Inclusion.
Dear Pitt County Schools (PCS) Board of Education, Staff, and Partners:
My name is Abby Yoon, and I am an upcoming graduate of DH Conley High School in Greenville, NC. As a student who has been part of PCS for 15+ years, I first want to thank all of the faculty and staff who have touched the lives of many students, including mine, through your compassion and dedication during our time here in PCS. I also extend my gratitude to the Board; from your recorded meetings, I have watched you all lead the “Road to Reopening” schools during Covid-19 since June 15th of last year. I can only imagine the arduous task of handling an unprecedented crisis and working towards the best interests of 20,000+ students. Thank you for your evident passion, conscientiousness, and courage.
Second, I want to share with you all information about opportunities that I implore you to share with students. After receiving full-ride scholarships to Duke University (BN Duke), UNC Chapel Hill (Morehead-Cain), Davidson College (John M. Belk), and Stanford University, I have chosen to accept an offer from Harvard University this fall to matriculate with no financial obligations. This follows after receiving the national Coca-Cola Scholarship among 100,000+ applicants across the country, the national full-tuition Cameron Impact Scholarship for any university, and other programs contributing to a total value of nearly $1.1 million. Knowing how to navigate everything from FAFSA to national opportunities, such as QuestBridge or college fly-ins, is a necessity often denied to students who are low-income, minority, and without personal connections to resources outside of school. Therefore, I hope you all proactively give the resources, knowledge, and support to cultivate the unique interests of those not limited to predominantly high-income, white classes (e.g., AIG, AP, Honors)— beginning with their freshman year. For students who take interest in the aforementioned programs, please share my contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to help and provide any useful insights.
Nearly a year has passed since the PCS Board released a statement standing “in solidarity against discrimination, cultural biases, and racism.” The letter stated that “one of the key focus components of our upcoming strategic plan (2020-2025) is EQUITY.” While this strategic planning was put temporarily on hold due to COVID-19, other students and I acknowledge that PCS has been leading steps to uphold its commitment. This includes a partnership between the Board and Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County (PPS-PC) in leading a program called “Community Conversations,” and deeming one of its focuses as the “Experiences of Minority Groups within PCS” according to its 2019-2020 report. In addition to PCS implementing equity training for administration, the Board has demonstrated recognition of the need for collaboration between parents and the Board in its decision-making and efforts, as well including teacher and student voices in coming years. I urge you all to consider the latter intention as a priority; students have invaluable perspectives that cannot be illuminated by the parent or decision-maker. We understand and have experienced the covert nuances through which our country’s power dynamics are upheld— from the way history is distorted, omitted, and cherry-picked in classrooms to how information is distributed unevenly by the student services department. It is this knowledge that makes our voices critical in the decision-making process.
This may be best demonstrated through the posts of an Instagram account called @BlackAtSouth, which amplifies the experiences of PCS students through anonymous reports written by them. Some of them include:
DHC: “A White boy in class yelled the n-word multiple times. All the other White kids and the teacher were laughing about it.”
“Being Black at Rose means looking on Instagram and seeing a white girl put a Black peer and monkey beside each other asking, ‘Am I racist if they look alike?’”
SCHS: “A classmate thought it would be funny to say that being a terrorist was the most common occupation in Afghanistan… the same guy who made jokes about Muslims in another class.”
St. Peters: “...I was the only Black kid in my class… I started getting hate letters and I didn’t know who was writing them. I eventually found out who was writing them and I went to the guidance counselor and my teacher and they did absolutely nothing about it.”
AG Cox Middle: “...counselors and teachers discourage Black students from taking honors and AP courses.”
SCHS: “I’ve always been embarrassed about being Mexican…. When I was talking to my classmates about my parents, one of them called me a wetback and everyone laughed. My teacher laughed as well.”
DHC: “...I’ve seen so many people laugh and push the buttons of kids with severe autism, or mental and physical disabilities [at Conley].”
Early College High School: “The staff and faculty would never do anything because they’d rather pay attention to ‘inappropriate’ dress attire... they tried to convince us (Black students) ‘he meant no harm’ and that ‘it’s just the way he jokes and his humor’ instead of saying something to him.”
“Chicod has a gifted program… there are only white students in the stride (accelerated) classes. I know many Black students who would work well in the gifted classrooms, and they are fully capable of doing so. But they aren’t in the classes”
More instances of dehumanization, apathy, ignorance, no accountability, false displays of self-righteousness, and gaslighting towards marginalized students by white students and authority have been reported, and historically underreported, for every PCS school. For any minority child who has navigated our system, it has always been clear that bigotry thrives within unintentional, “well-meaning” habits and social institutions. Our curriculum falsely promotes our times as a “post-racial” period with colorblindness as a mechanism to absolve white people’s guilt from white supremacy; glosses over imperialist and white supremacist atrocities; fails to address race as an influence in every discipline; perpetrates erasure of any individual LGBTQ+, neurodivergent, with disabilities, or existing beyond the racial binary of Black and white (e.g, AAPI, Native, Latinx, etc.); and invalidates minority students’ experiences and lived reality.
Furthermore, racial segregation has still persisted among our schools since the first desegregation order for PCS was issued by a federal judge in 1968. It is no coincidence that non-white students make up over 90% of the student body in relatively under-resourced schools such as Wellcome Middle and South Greenville Elementary, while white students comprise the majority in schools like Chicod and Wintergreen Intermediate. This segregation has undoubtedly contributed to the perpetuation of inequities and limited access to opportunities for marginalized communities, in which white students have been reported as 6 times as likely to be enrolled in at least one AP class as Black students; Black students 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as White students; and Black students, on average, academically 2.8 grades behind White students in PCS. Despite Black children making up nearly half of the district composition, nonwhite students comprise only around 30% of the AP Course and Gifted and Talented programs yet nearly 100% of expulsion cases. These statistics were highlighted by a ProPublica study compiling 2015-2018 data from sources including the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Only recently has PCS’s leadership broken its long silence to these injustices. However, we are tired of deaths occurring as a result, and being the disrupter, of institutional complicity. If the purpose of education is to instill empathy and offer answers to reality, then PCS has failed. For too long have your children remained inarticulate, traumatized, confused, gaslit, angry, and fearful about their experiences, shaped by the failure of our society to honor diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, neurological condition, and disability.
I recognize that it is not easy to dismantle decades of bigotry within the school system. Luckily, we students are listening, discussing ideas, and eager to work collaboratively with PCS Board, staff, and adults to re-imagine and build a just educational system. I attest to this as the mentor of a team of PCS students leading a grassroots anti-racism, community dialogue initiative called Digging For Diversity. The program is spearheaded by DH Conley junior Caramia Landis. From partnering with PPS-PC to integrating a student advisory council into the Board to mandating implicit bias training to diversifying the history curricula, we have been exchanging innovative solutions and gathering to discuss change for months beyond the public eye.
As Covid-19 subsides and PCS moves forward in its strategic planning next year, we demand PCS uphold its promise to “breaking down barriers, dismantling racism, providing outlets to listen to and hear each other and rebuilding unity and solidarity.” We urge you to include the invaluable voices, perspectives, and ideas of students within your decision-making and programming. As students tired, hungry, and eager for justice, we will continue to be in contact and bring forth our input before your presence in the coming years.
In a place where people of all walks of life are brought together, it is our hope that the public school becomes a place where preconceived notions of each other are challenged, the humanity of one another is recognized, and the potential of every student is nurtured.
We look forward to your partnership,