As part of a 2001 settlement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights alleging discrimination against white students, the Ann Arbor School District is required to have all student clubs provide written statements that affirm their commitment to non-discrimination. To comply with this agreement, the Ann Arbor school board recently passed a decision to force student groups to sign onto an open letter to the community banning only discrimination based on race, color and national origin. This attempt to gain written confirmation of non-discrimination is a poor way to promote tolerance because it completely ignores other types of discrimination beyond race.
What is particularly puzzling about the school boards is why they single out racial discrimination. It seems inconsistent with the district’s non-discrimination policy that lists 15 categories of potential discrimination. By only calling out racial discrimination, the board is tacitly saying that all other types of discrimination – such as religious, gender and sexual orientation – are acceptable.
While the school board is on the right track, it needs to do more to ensure that all types of discrimination are prohibited. All student groups in the district should be required to sign a statement outlawing all forms of discrimination.
Some might argue that it is the place of the school board, not student groups, to sign onto statements concerning discrimination. However, when students sign onto the statement, they will take partial ownership of the message and hopefully take its meaning to heart. They will be more dedicated to the written material than if it was a rule handed down from authority.
Additionally, students will be more likely to include more than just racial discrimination in their written statements. Students in Huron High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance are leading the protest against the school to change the letter to more accurately reflect the various forms of discrimination. It is fitting that this particular group lead the protest because sexuality is oftentimes an issue subject to discrimination among high school students. Generally, there is a stigma attached to being anything other than “straight” in high school. These students might have experienced this discrimination first-hand and therefore the school board should take their protest to heart.
If the school board is really committed to change, it should do more than the feel-good measure of written statements. Discrimination won’t go away without a more concerted effort. Student groups should open up their memberships to all and actively seek to understand and work with one another.
While having student groups sign a letter opposing racial discrimination is a step in the right direction, it is not a big enough of a step. By only highlighting racial discrimination, the school board is opening up students to other kinds of discrimination that is not covered in the letter. This is an egregious mistake because other forms of discrimination are alive in high school environments and to think otherwise is na