EYE OF THE TIGERS VIEW: Cultural policies must go deeper

Roseville Joint Union High School District’s changing attitude toward bolstering an atmosphere of cultural acceptance is a step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be the last.

In late October, the district launched the first of a series of speakers on “sustaining culture” and “strengthening community” and proposed the formation of a standalone policy as a response to hate-motivated behavior and for the promotion of cultural understanding.

The speaker series and updated policy may come as a response to rising staff and community concerns surrounding hate-motivated incidents on school campuses, like that of Oakmont High School last November.

After a Roseville Police Department investigation beginning on Nov. 24, the RPD and OHS administration identified 13 Oakmont students responsible for vandalizing a black Oakmont student’s lawn with cotton balls, with FOX40 later reporting the text exchange of racial slurs between the students regarding their vandalism.

We recognize the values of these initiatives and their attempts to address airs of cultural intolerance. At the same, time, we question their ability to affect the tangible change that staff around the district and the wider Roseville community called for in our article, “A lack of reflection” published May 26.

That article reports that people of the RJUHSD community from diverse backgrounds – both white and nonwhite – acknowledge that there exists an atmosphere of narrow-mindedness or lack of cultural acceptance to some extent, whether operating subtly and when brought up, treated as “hush hush,” or overtly in incidents like those of last November and its reportedly dismissive administrative response.

There still remains a stark discrepancy between students of color and staff of color across the district. 40 percent of RJUHSD students identified as nonwhite, while only 9.5 percent of teachers identified in the same way last year. That number has seen little movement. The question from that article still remains – how might the district tackle its long term problem of race representation across students to the staff that is to support them in their chief learning environment?

We don’t think that these initiatives this school year are surefire ways for the district to tackle the source of the problem head on – the lack of cultural representation. This proposal (after it clears the district school board) could help campuses more efficiently investigate hate-motivated acts and more quickly dole out fair consequences to those who are responsible.

Unfortunately, it does little in the way of crafting a more accepting environment in the most direct way we recognize – injecting campus populations with staff of diverse backgrounds that, by nature, form a more accepting whole. Doing so is a more complex, longer term commitment to change.
The proposal pledges to train staff to better recognize what is and is not acceptable interaction in the context of race and culture, but in the end, this is not what we’d consider a proactive, preventative measure.

Instead of investing time and energy into reducing the number of hate-motivated incidents at the root of the problem, the policy aims to reduce the amount of hate-motivated incidents that site staff let fall through the nets. Better vision doesn’t affect the existence of what the eyes see. The net for catching these offenses will strengthen under the proposal, but a more effective net doesn’t necessarily lessen the amount of offenses that occur.
The proposal includes the intention of the district providing instruction for the understanding of diversity and tolerance, but this early in its rollout, there’s no tangible detail on what the execution of these promises will look like.

The cultural speaker series, however helpful it may be in furthering understanding, is limited by its lack of scope. The first entry into the series attracted roughly thirty members from the RJUHSD community. This combination of district administration, teachers, and parents willing to take time out of their evening aren’t those most in need of education.

We don’t doubt the end goal of these district initiatives – to ensure a healthy, diverse culture at among students and staff. To start approaching this end goal in any significant capacity is going to require long term commitment that extends further than the simple formation of rules and policies, into effective enforcement at the site level. We don’t want to see a set of good ideas turn into a series of checkmarked obligations at the bottom of a district administrator’s drawer.

The execution of the policy, to turn it into something tangible, is going to require the conscious effort of both students and staff. At this point, the plans to do so (like cultural tolerance training) are in their infancies – definite markers of cultural acceptance are yet to be seen. The district can’t let the momentum it’s trying to build fizzle out.