Snapshot of unheard experiences, stories of Black students in SRVUSD

Students color experience racial prejudice in many forms

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

As good as San Ramon Valley Unified School District schools may seem with their stellar grades, strong sports programs and multitudes of clubs, systemic racism often hides in plain sight. Students of color, specifically Black students, experience racial prejudice in many forms.

Some examples include the use of the “n-word” by those who are not Black, the use of racial and derogatory slurs towards others in classroom settings and more. Some refer to these actions as microaggressions. A microaggression is defined as a direct or subtle action, statement or incident, that targets groups of racial or ethnic minorities.

Monte Vista High School Black Student Union co-presidents Sydney Wanguhu and Adanna Ogu spoke to Dougherty Valley High’s Wildcat Tribune, explaining the realities of day-to-day life. 

Ogu said she has lived in San Ramon her entire life, and was told she looked unrecognizable when her hair was flat-ironed rather than her natural curls.

 “I was asked where I was from, out of nowhere … told that I have a flat lip … called an oreo,” and emphasized how all eyes fell on her in a classroom when Black history was mentioned.

Wanguhu said that when she wore her hair in braids, she was told that “braided hair looked ‘ratchet.’” Her classmates asked her why she “wasn’t over slavery” and “why does it bother you?” She said she feels “like it’s ignorance more than anything,” but it doesn’t erase the pain, it’s what Black individuals have to “endure through our lifetime. It’s just a matter of how I handle situations.”

Ashraf Abdelmagid, a senior at Dougherty, has experienced different forms of racism at school. In his sophomore year, three students came up to him, handed him a banana and correlated it to Africa. When he attended Gale Ranch Middle School, he was called multiple times to the office for incidents he said he did not commit — with the possible consequence of a suspension.

“People think our school is diverse … since it is mostly made up of Asian Americans, they make it seem that racism can’t exist. They think that because it is a white-majority school it can’t be racist just because they are minorities, [too],” Abdelmagid said.

Abdelmagid said because of the socioeconomic status of many students at Dougherty, it often blinds those who are well-off while further disadvantaging those who aren’t as well off.

“Specifically at Dougherty, it’s definitely more of a socioeconomic problem because most students are super well-off while the rest are just aren’t as privileged.”

Dwayne Davis is a former Dougherty Valley High student who transferred to McClymonds High School in the Oakland Unified School District during his junior year. Graduating from Mcclymonds in 2020, he now attends Cal State Los Angeles.

Davis articulated the stark differences he saw as a Black student between Dougherty Valley in San Ramon and McClymonds in Oakland: “[At] Dougherty, a lot of the staff couldn’t relate to the students of color and relate to you, especially when it comes to your upbringing. There was a cultural shock coming to the Oakland school district. I didn’t know what to expect, as all of the teachers were Black and had experience in the teaching.”

Davis said he once caught a group of non-Black students saying the n-word, making fun of him and using derogatory slurs at Dougherty, emphasizing why it’s not right.

“I was at a dance show after I left because all my friends were there. I was sitting with my friends and family and there was a kid behind me of Korean background and he was saying the n-word. Anyone who is non-Black should not use the n-word.”

Other Black students at Dougherty have taken the time to draw attention to students using the n-word when they are not Black themselves. For instance, a Twitter thread was started by former DVHS student Tiana Day in which many Dougherty students were publicly called out for saying the n-word, posting videos, text messages, and other screenshots as proof.

Davis commented on the thread, emphasizing that the videos were not posted with the intention of tearing others down for no reason, but rather to show that they reflected a hateful message.

“People say that she was exposing them, but really what she was doing was raising awareness that there is racism in our school and in front of our faces.”

Such experiences are pervasive, but are usually not limited to the classroom. A Black anonymous San Ramon Unified alum explained how certain childhood experiences — adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) — shape people’s lives, often causing fear and trauma.

According to the CDC, ACEs can have “lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, and opportunity,” and ACEs often disproportionately affect certain minority groups such as Black individuals.

“When I was 3 years old I was babysat by an older step cousin that sexually abused me until I was 10. I spent my whole life suppressing these memories and I got into a lot of trouble growing up. I noticed I was always intrigued by risky activities. I realized that this behavior was a result of my unresolved childhood trauma,” the source said.

The school district said they are attempting to take steps to help students of color. The district Board of Education passed Resolution No. 95/19-20 Denouncing Racism, and Supporting Equity, Safety and Well-being of Black People on June 29, 2020.

Christopher George, director of instruction at the district, said, “We are aware that [racism and equity] is something that the district is always working on.”

One example is Courageous Conversations, a program adopted four years ago, in which teachers are trained to facilitate discussions about racial disparities and inequalities. 

Ashlee Gutierrez, the district equity director, says her role is defined as she goes. She wants to create a plan that allows students to flag incidents of microaggressions, restoration for victims of harm, and definitions of responsibility. She wants to make sure that principals have the training, leadership and resources to respond. She wants to make a “stop hate” website where incidents of hate crimes can be reported.

“At the end of the day, we are a school and it’s our job is to educate,” Gutierrez said.

She said the equity resolution is  “the first step, and it’s an important one. But the most important part is what happens next. The next thing is we need to fund it and make sure folks listen to kids, teachers of color, and make room in the budget.”

Abdelmagid acknowledges that San Ramon Unified is taking steps and feels that truly building equity is an intricate process that will take time.

However, Monte Vista High BSU co-presidents Wanguhu and Ogu highlighted that conversations surrounding race must be encouraged from an early age through a variety of forms, no matter what any institution is attempting to do.

Ogu, speaking from her own experiences, said that “children’s minds are super malleable at a young age,” which she learned from her dad at the age of 4. “It’s so important that we start to educate children, they are a lot smarter than we think they are and learn fast.”