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TIMES PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - In another example of student activism, hundreds of Beaverton High School students staged a walkout this May to express solidarity with peers at Forest Grove High School, where a student hung a 'Build A Wall' sign that offended many and sparked protests that have spread across Washington County.

When Kimberly Busch took a survey about white privilege in her Multicultural Literature class at Aloha High School last year, she thought it “put things in perspective.”

But this year, the same class assignment in a 12th grade Literature Composition class has drawn the ire of some parents, after first being reported by KATU. The story has since been covered by news outlets nationwide, sparking a debate regarding classroom discussions about race.

"I think (my son) should be learning actual education and not be a part of some social experiment or some teacher's political agenda," Jason Schmidt told KATU after learning his son, an Aloha High School senior, was given a white privilege survey.

Busch, who is white, was not offended by the assignment and found it to be educational. And, she said, her classmates at the time seemed to agree.

“I feel like the point of it was to open people’s eyes about other people’s struggles,” said Busch. “I understand that white privilege plays a huge role in people’s lives, that even today, people aren’t being treated equally.”

The survey posed statements including, “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group,” “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed,” and “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the newspaper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.”

Students were asked to use a scoring system to assess how true or false such statements were for them.

“It is information teenagers and even some adults need to understand, to try and put themselves in someone else’s shoes,” said Busch.

One student who disagreed with the assignment was Chad Papenfuhs, who responded to another classmate's pro-survey Twitter post, wondering why the lesson was taught in a Literature Composition class.

"I'm just saying you shouldn't step out of the curriculum," Papenfuhs wrote on Twitter. "Especially on a required course about a highly controversial topic."

Beaverton School District officials say the assignment — and the class as a whole — is about sparking conversations and building bridges.

During the class, students will delve into discussions about race, class, sexuality and religion, with class exercises culminating in a written essay.

“It’s our responsibility as educators — how do we have civil discourse about race and politics?” said Sho Shigeoka, administrator for equity and inclusion. “It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about having a discussion.”

Stephanie Miller, who graduated from Aloha last year, took to Twitter to share her support for the assignment.

“People who are mad and parents who are upset need to realize that by pretending problems don’t exist, it doesn’t make the problems go away,” she wrote in a Twitter post.

The survey is adapted from "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," a 1989 essay by scholar Peggy McIntosh, and is commonly used in college courses.

White privilege, in academic terms, has been defined as a set of institutional and social advantages and benefits that, for reasons of historical and contemporary inequity, non-white people lack equal access to.

“My work is not about blame, shame, guilt, or whether one is a ‘nice person.’ ... It is about unearned advantage, which can also be described as exemption from discrimination,” wrote McIntosh. SUBMITTED PHOTO - In their classes, some students at Aloha High School and Westview High School have been given this survey, which includes 26 items and is based on a 1989 essay by Peggy McIntosh.

Conversations happening in classrooms across the district

Emily Torres, a sophomore at Westview High School, was given the same survey during a similar class assignment. She recalled a class exercise last year where students were asked to all stand up, then sit down when statements on the survey applied to them.

“So the whole classroom realized that all the white people were, like, sitting down within the first few statements,” said Torres.

Her classmates, as far she she could tell, were receptive to the exercise.

For Torres, who is a first-generation Mexican-American, the assignment was a reflection of a reality she and her family grew up experiencing.

“Growing up as a person of color, you don’t even need to be told, you experience it on your own, sooner or later,” said Torres, who participated in a student-led walkout at Westview this May, one of many such demonstrations across the state in response to a student at Forest Grove High School who hung a banner reading “Build A Wall.”

She said that while she hasn’t experienced explicit racial harassment at Westview High School, she’s dealt with more subtle forms.

“Everyone gets stereotyped,” said Torres. “Like if you’re Latina, you should be feisty or have an attitude, or you’re uneducated.”

Miryana Chirimwami, a junior at Westview, agrees.

“In class, some teachers talk to different races in different tones. If you’re black or Hispanic, they’ll talk to you like you’re in kindergarten, basically,” said Chirimwami, who is co-president of Westview’s Black Student Union.

Aloha sophomore Aisha Osman, who said she has been called a “terrorist,” “Somalian pirate,” and the n-word by fellow students, was invited to speak at the White House this summer after writing a letter to President Barack Obama. After speaking out about her experiences, she’s already seen changes at Aloha.

During a discussion in one of her classes this year, fellow students spoke about how they, too, would speak out if they saw racial discrimination occurring.

“It made me feel good, because now I know I have classmates that would actually support me if a racist person were to say something to me,” said Osman.

Aloha is the most ethnically diverse high school in the district. Forty-five percent of students are white and 35 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

In the district, just more than 50 percent of students are non-white.

Changing demographics have motivated the district to address issues of racial inequity and achievement gaps more frankly.

“Fifteen years ago, we as a whole district, I can’t say we were comfortable talking about race in relation with achievement,” said Shigeoka. “We’re constantly learning how to be a welcoming and inclusive society.”

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