Featured, State News

Vermont students call on schools, lawmakers to combat racial inequities

By Peter D’Auria/VTDigger

Vermont students are urging state officials and educators to make a series of sweeping reforms to combat longstanding racial inequities in the state.

A new report, written by the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, a group of students from across the state seeking to address racial inequities, aims to be a resource for students and calls on the state to take steps to combat injustices.

“We hope you take this information and use it in your day to day life to realize the extent of racism in our communities,” wrote the report’s authors, Emily Maikoo, Addie Lentzner and Minelle Sarfo Adu, all of whom are high schoolers or college students. “And we hope you are able to use this knowledge as power to effect change here in Vermont.”

Citing academic research, history and news articles, the 19-page report lays out a brief history of racism and slavery in Vermont, touching on the state’s eugenics program, discrimination against indigenous Vermonters and Middlebury College graduate Alexander Twilight, the first Black man known to receive a degree from an American college.

Students also provided a breakdown of longstanding racial disparities in health care, housing and criminal justice, as well as the results of a student survey at a Bennington high school.

That survey, conducted by the report’s authors at Mt. Anthony Union High School, found that 50% of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Do you feel like it’s hard to live in Vermont because of its lack of diversity?”

“Living in a non-diverse state has made it more challenging for me to have a clear, accurate understanding of other cultures and their history,” Ella Saccio, a tenth-grade student, was quoted as saying in the report. “I think the students in Vermont aren’t exposed to as many cultures as in other states and it leads to having a more close-minded population.”

Asked if they thought they had gotten a “substantial education on race and racism” in their elementary school, nearly 80% of Mt. Anthony Union High students answered “no.”

Saudia LaMont, an equity consultant and candidate for the Vermont House, praised the students involved in drafting the report, saying that they were working to fill an unmet need in schools.

“What does this tell us?” LaMont said at a virtual press conference on the report Monday. “Students want to know the truth. They want to know the facts. They want to know the data and statistics and the accurate history of how we got here and how we can do things differently to truly significantly change for our future.”

Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun, D-Westminster, cited the student group’s work on a bill that she sponsored during the last legislative session. That bill, H. 584, would have created a program to award certification to schools “that recognize fully the history, contributions, and perspectives of ethnic groups and social groups.”

The bill died in committee last winter, but Bos-Lun said she hoped to revive it during the upcoming session.

“I would really like to continue working on this issue,” she said at the press conference. “Some of the same elements from the original bill are likely to be included in future legislation I would like to introduce.”

The Anti-Racism Network’s report also includes a long list of proposed reforms in schools and other areas of government, including revising school curricula to be more “Culturally Inclusive, Anti-Racist, and Multicultural” and expanding affordable housing and health care access.

Asked about the Anti-Racism Network’s reasons for drafting the report, Maikoo, a student at Mt. Anthony and one of the report’s authors, said at the press conference that students hoped to give other students access to resources that were not taught or readily accessible in classrooms.

“We weren’t learning about this in school,” Maikoo said. “And we felt like there was just a gap in what we learned, and we wanted to try to fill that.”

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