There is an interesting controversy at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park (outside of Chicago) where the school allowed students to hold a black-student only meeting. OPRF held a “Black Lives Matter” assembly on Feb. 27 but barred parents of white students who tried to participate. Principal Nathaniel Rouse (right), the assembly’s organizer, insisted he thought black students would speak more freely among members of their own race as what is known as affinity grouping. It might also be called racial segregation at a public school. What if white students wanted to engage in “affinity grouping” by excluding minority students?
The OPRF school board met to discuss the controversy and heard from dozens of parents, students and teachers who virtually all supported Rouse.
While I understand Rouse’s view that black students needed to discuss recent events among themselves, I disagree with the decision on both legal and pedagogical grounds. I believe it is far more important to have the whole community involved in speaking to such issues. Indeed, many of these parents appeared to want to come to express their solidarity and sympathy.
The controversy is reminiscent of the backlash against the Smith College president for being too inclusive in saying “all lives matter.”
Superintendent Steven Isoye (left) also defended Rouse in saying that “It was clear to me that Mr. Rouse was trying to build a space that was safe space for our black students.”
OPRF English teacher Paul Noble was more forceful:
“Not everything is about us. Not everything needs to have our stamp of approval, much less our participation. Can we just check our white privilege for a minute? I don’t know why a white affinity group is necessary to make a black affinity group palatable.”
I fail to see why the question is one of “white privilege” rather than equal treatment. To call a demand for equal treatment as “privilege” is rather Orwellian. The privilege goes to the group allowed unique or exempt status in a given practice. If the school is saying that students are allowed to base affinity groups on race, I do not see why such groups would be only permitted for African American students. There is a reason why the law imposed color-blind tests that seek to establish neutrality and equality in the treatment of different racial, religious, and other groups.
While I reject the notion of “White privilege” as the reason for objections, there does remain the good-faith view of Rouse that this meeting was to allow a minority group to discuss contemporary issues among themselves. Although I disagree with the decision, I can see why Rouse believed that the highly emotional recent events warranted a special evening for just black students and parents to express shared feelings and viewpoints.
What do you think?
Source: Chicago Tribune