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1/17.5/4 City, police, other officials listen as students share their experiences with bias

Learning and educating others about a variety of cultures, fostering safe spaces in the community, hosting discussions, screening films, and promoting books that respectfully address discrimination, diversity and equity — these were some of the steps that West Linn and Wilsonville leaders came up with in the hopes of fostering more diverse and equitable communities.

City councilors, library directors, members of police forces, and diversity groups from West Linn and Wilsonville gathered with students, teachers, administration and the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board for a workshop Monday, Jan. 28, to discuss diversity and equity in the community.PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - West Linn-Wilsonville School Board Chair Regan Molatore speakes at Monday's equity workshop with leaders from West Linn and Wilsonville.

On the heels of last fall's Multi-City Equity Summit, the WL-WV district wanted to continue working on equity in schools and the community heading into the 2020 summit, which will take place this fall.

During the workshop, a diverse panel of district students shared their experiences in school and the community, hoping to open the eyes of the adults in the room to the realities of being a minority stud-

ent in West Linn and Wilsonville.

Students told stories of microaggressions coming from both students and teachers. They described living in West Linn and Wilsonville like living in a bubble, where people are sheltered and naive about the real world.

Being a person of color or LGBTQ can be isolating and lead to an intense, harmful pressure to conform with the rest of the school, they added.

Some students said they had one or two teachers who they felt safe talking to, but most, they said, wouldn't understand where they come from or fully appreciate their circumstances.

One student expressed gratitude for the support, like free lunches, offered within schools to underprivileged students, but noted the support doesn't extend beyond school walls. Another student said the help they've received from teachers and counselors in applying for college and scholarships opened their eyes to how much people care.

In some ways, students said, the West Linn and Wilsonville schools and communities are safer and more welcoming than other places they've lived and gone to school, but despite that, discrimination persists.

According to students, LGBTQ slurs are an ingrained part of the language and culture at district schools.

The students said they wanted the adults in the room, and in their lives, to not just write off their struggles as typical teenage drama. They called that type of dismissive behavior dehumanizing.

Near the end of the student panel's discussion, one student pointed out that while they appreciate everyone in the room listening, the responsibility of solving these issues should not fall on the shoulders of students. "We're here to be educated by you, not the other way around."

Many of the most thought-provoking comments of the night came from the student panel.

"Most of us chose to be here, but I think to be able to take action and solve the problem, the people who don't choose to be here are the people who need this the most," one student said. "I think we need to spread the word because we probably all agree with each other (that this work is necessary), but there are some people who don't."

Another student pointed out that while it was great for everyone to listen to the students on the panel, there are other student groups who were not represented in the conversation, who deserved to be heard just as much as anyone else.

After listening to the students share their thoughts and experiences, the room began to brainstorm actionable steps to take toward more equitable schools and communities.

One idea from a group of teachers was to make a point of asking students about the holidays they celebrate so their classes can start learning about the diversity of cultures that exist in their schools.

Other thoughts were to create safe spaces in the community, like at the libraries, and to promote more films, books and discussions that deal with race, discrimination, diversity and equity.

"We don't have any false idea that we're going to fix it all tonight," Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said. "But what we commit to — and the reason that you're all here — is because it is a large part of your work to respond to your community and do things better tomorrow than the day before."

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