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In Beaverton, a community conversation on race tackles tough issues using student, educator voices

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Michael Musangu shares his opinions during an exercise on stereotypes at the 'Tackling Our Implicit Bias in Order to Have a Conversation About Race,' breakout session in Beaverton."We all have implicit bias," Natalie Labossiere told a classroom at Southridge High School Wednesday, Jan. 29. "It's important to recognize that."

Labossiere is one of at least three high school teachers in Beaverton who teaches a class centered around dismantling stereotypes.

Together with fellow teacher Luke Fritz, Labossiere uses a combination of group activities and introspection exercises to tap into core issues surrounding race and cultural identity. The idea is to help students understand how identity affects their relationships with other people, how they are perceived, and what challenges arise as a result of biases and misconceptions.

Labossiere and Fritz are used to teaching students, but last Wednesday night, Jan. 29, after school hours, they stood in front of a classroom of all ages as part of the Beaverton School District's "Community-wide Conversation Around Race."

The three-hour seminar was aimed at building racial literacy — that is, understanding how others navigate the world based on skin color, culture and social systems. Achieving racial literacy requires people to break out of their comfort zones and often-homogenous social circles to talk about what makes them different, and why that matters.

"It's OK," Labossiere said of acknowledging implicit biases. "What we need to do is make the implicit explicit, so then we can have those conversations."

As a spinoff from social studies curriculum, the content Fritz and Labossiere are teaching is relatively new, but the concepts aren't.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Marquesa Calderon talks during a keynote roundtable at the Beaverton Community-Wide Conversation Around Race.Last week's community forum featured two dozen different breakout sessions led by educators and students, with topics like "Growing Up Latino in Beaverton," "Interrupting White Supremacy," and "Tackling Our Implicit Bias in Order to Have a Conversation About Race."

In that session, Labossiere, Fritz and Pat McCreery, Beaverton's new equity leader, shared their approach for getting students to come to terms with lingering stereotypes and learning how to dismantle them.

Sandwiched between two sessions was a roundtable discussion among a handful of students that allowed them to speak freely about their experiences as children up until now. Five young people, including one recent high school grad, each from different backgrounds, said they'd encountered racism in their lives, most at an early age.

The session was meant to be candid, but observed by the hundreds of participants who took part in the Jan. 29 Community-wide Conversation.

"Privilege is invisible to those who have it," recent Southridge grad Nathan Moore reminded his group, with the larger group listening in. "That's how racism ends, is acknowledging your privilege."


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