EYE OF THE TIGER’S VIEW: ROAR lessons only begin racism conversation



In response to multiple on-campus hate incidents, teachers presented three cultural sensitivity lessons during ROAR period at the beginning of the spring term. These incidents warrant a response, so the lessons were a vital step in the right direction.

However, the three-day presentation’s setup, inability to hold teacher accountability and poor student effort to contribute to discussions made these lessons in some classes ineffective in fulfilling their purpose. It is important that these conversations are happening on campus, and they must continue because racism, unfortunately, cannot be eradicated in three 30 minute periods.

The lessons took two approaches. They focused on showcasing students’ similarities the majority of the time. But the little time when they focused on students’ differences proved to be most relatable. The second presentation  included a video that showcased the reality of racism and hate incidents Black Student Union members have experienced. The video’s reliability made it effective in condemning racism. We wish the presentations would have implemented more of this peer-centric approach.

On the other hand, students were shown a trailer titled “On the Way to School,” which showed how less fortunate students from around the world struggle to get to school. Some students registered a message of “be grateful” rather than “don’t be racist.” And being grateful does not directly solve the problem of racism on campus. The peer video approach, hitting close to home, was most direct in sending the message these presentations were trying to convey.

The presentations focused on diversity, racism and the importance of being an “upstander.” The second day’s slides defined words like “racism,” “prejudice” and “stereotype” without clearly condemning them. It is clear that students are more familiar with the feelings associated with racism rather than the dictionary definitions. Students may have left the presentations prepared for a vocabulary test rather than understanding the cruel realities behind the words.

Unfortunately, the textbook approach appeared to many students as something they had seen before: an anti-bullying campaign. Because of this, some students we observed did not take the lessons seriously. Rather than asking students to pledge to be an “upstander,” the lessons should have focused on the consequences of hate incidents and more directly condemn racism on campus.

Additionally, the presentations’ uniform design, which required all teachers to teach the same step-by-step  presentation to different students within different classroom cultures, hindered the lessons’ goal. Although uniform lesson materials for all staff intended to create a united front on this important issue, execution and student reception varied across the board.

To make this worse, multiple student anecdotes suggest some teachers lacked strong familiarity with the slideshows prior to presenting them to their students. That means a halfhearted attitude, in some cases, began with teachers and continued onto students.

While in some classrooms students engaged in quality discussions, some failed to pay attention beyond the first trailer. The unpracticed opening to the lessons offended some and dissuaded some from participating in productive conversations: When it was time to discuss diversity or what it means to be an “upstander,” some students veered off topic.

Because the execution of the lessons left a bitter taste in the mouths of some students, future efforts to tackle the complicated topic of diversity and race may fall on deaf ears. Students have to keep an open mind. Racism is a hard thing to talk about, but when the conversation opens, it is important to participate.

There will be many things to consider regarding future presentations. Students and adults may not be able to articulate themselves perfectly when discussing sensitive topics. However, the more frequently these discussions take place, the easier it will become. Future presentations should bolster what worked with this first step and incorporate a more direct connection to the everyday experiences of RHS students.