SPS students discuss race and racism with acclaimed poet

Posted by Communications staff on 2/15/2021 12:00:00 PM

Headshot of poet and Yale professor Claudia Rankine Last week, SPS high school students got the unique opportunity to meet acclaimed poet Claudia Rankine (pictured right) and have an in-depth, meaningful discussion around race and racism.

The virtual event was the product of the collaboration between members of Gonzaga University’s Black Student Union (BSU) and teachers and students from Ferris and Rogers high schools, many who are part of their schools’ BSUs. Students from across SPS participated as well.

“It was very amazing. I was very excited to meet and hear [Mrs. Rankine],” said AJ, a senior from Ferris. “I was so happy to be a part of something bigger.”

The organization of this event began several weeks ago, when Gonzaga purchased over 700 copies of Rankine’s book “Citizen: An American Lyric” and distributed a majority to local high schools.

Each high school created their own lessons based on the book and their particular situation. Teachers at Ferris and Rogers even partnered with each other and worked with their Black Student Unions to discuss Rankine’s work in specific classes, addressing its relation to historical and present-day examples of racism and discrimination.

“It was really nice hearing others talk about their thinking,” said Krista, a Rogers student. Her classmate Samuel said, “[I] felt like I learned a little bit more on how to just be a better human to others and be as open minded as I can.”

Through Rankine’s work and the discussions that followed, several students said they learned a lot about what it takes to be antiracist and how to be an ally for people of color.

“It was eye-opening on how my little/unaware actions can be perceived as racist or sexist depending on the circumstances,” said Samuel. “I can now see how I was in the wrong and needed to improve my self morals to be more aware and conscious of my actions.”

Ferris senior Rosie Zhou said, “[Rankine’s] words really made me think deeply about race in America, and it made me reflect on my own Asian American identity and experience.”

Andre, another students from Rogers, added, “This has allowed me to be better prepared to go into my future with an antiracist viewpoint and crack down on social injustice within our country.”

Despite the difficult subject matter, students didn’t shy away from the opportunity to learn new things and hear from people with differing backgrounds and opinions discuss Claudia Rankine’s book. In fact, they relished it.

“It was beyond nice to see people from my community come together and express their emotions and opinions over her book,” said Mercedes, a Rogers freshman.

Her classmate Krista agreed. “I really enjoyed the book and learning new things regarding racial and social issues and introducing the idea of microaggression.”

Andre summed up his feelings with this message of thanks to the event organizers at Gonzaga: “I am so appreciative of your willingness to include students in this event and I am hopeful that impactful change will stem from it and more opportunities similar to this one will be possible in the future!”