Article by: Anna-JO Stuart, Opinion Editor
Photo Courtesy of Canva
I attended Saline High School. Yes, the same Saline High School that recently found itself in national news after a series of racist events occurred. I did not fit in there. I was an out of district student who, since the seventh grade, drove thirty minutes every day to attend Saline Schools. I came from a lower middle-class family. I wore clothes from Kohls, Walmart, and the Salvation Army. I was well aware that my family could not afford luxuries and that my opportunity to attend college was dependent on me securing scholarships.
Although Saline High School is one of the best public schools in Michigan, it is also a school of luxury and privilege. LuluLemon, North Face, and Vineyard Vine were the name brand companies worn by most students. The parking lots were speckled with brand new cars that had brand new drivers behind the wheel. Students carried the newest iPhones and laptops in their backpacks. I was an outsider, and I knew that from the start.
I was quickly taught to be ashamed that my hard working dad drove gravel trains and my mom drove buses. I could not afford to fit in at Saline. I had some friends at school, but that was where the interactions stopped. I did not spend much time outside of school with Saline students, and experienced bullying from my own teammates on the softball team. I had to sacrifice having a sense of belonging in my school in order to get a good education.
I’ve always considered my high school to be racist and classist, but the issue is finally starting to be brought to people’s attention, so much so that it’s showing up on national news outlets.
Recently, students of color attending Saline High school reported a group chat involving mostly white football players for racist remarks. This resulted in the school’s superintendent condemning the behavior in a letter sent home that explained that Saline Schools are a place of inclusion. The superintendent also scheduled two community forums that were open to the public to discuss diversity and inclusion in Saline. On February 3, 2020, at the first of these forums, there was another explosive racist event. Adrian Iraola was sharing his family’s experience in Saline when a white father yelled out “Then why didn’t you stay in Mexico?” Most of the community members at the forum were shocked by this man’s outbursts, and much of the conversation following was centered around the need for diversity and inclusion in Saline Schools.
Saline is a clear example of a cultural problem, not just in the schools, but in the community. In my experience, if you were not wealthy or white, then you did not belong.
As an alumnus of Saline I am ashamed to say that I attended Saline High School. I know that many of the students, teachers, faculty, and community members are good people who do not align with the events that occurred recently. However, I also know that socioeconomic discrimination is an issue at Saline that I experienced personally. I cannot imagine that being a person of color in Saline is easy, and though I can not speak towards their experiences, we share a lack of belonging within that community. I am glad that Saline is being forced to face their lack of diversity and their overall bias. I believe most of their biases towards race and financial status are implicit and unintentional. Regardless, implicit and explicit bias is an issue throughout our country.
Bias is something that many people realize is an issue, but it is strange when your own high school is being highlighted as an example of the cultural crisis. I call it a cultural crisis because I believe white affluent communities are receiving superior public education, than less affluent, more racially diverse, and rural communities. This nation has unequal access to what should be a basic human right— education. When families who are less affluent try to gain access to this tool, they are hit with barriers. Their students? At risk for being discriminated against or bullied.
Working to eliminate bias is not going to be an easy fix. To change the entire community of Saline, it will have to go through a cultural shift. Saline Schools is made up of mostly wealthy, white students and teachers. As long as there is a lack of diversity, bias, racism, and discrimination will continue to pose a huge problem. It is time that Saline begins to develop a community that denounces inequality, judgment, discrimination, and bullying.