CBE teacher draws on personal experiences with racism, launches petition for school-based anti-racism task force
By Riggs Zyrille Vergara, Layout Editor
In the words of Courtney Walcott, a teacher at Western Canada High School, “grief” is what prompted the initiative to create a petition calling for a school-based anti-racism task force to be established through Calgary School Board of Education.
When a part of your culture dies, people feel a collective pain that they want to heal from, Walcott explained.
“I’ve felt this pain, but amplified. That feeling of loss has become a part of my Black experience,” he added.
Along with the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation, Walcott sees the task force as a means to collect and analyze race-based, gender-based and economic-based data to determine and isolate the structures that adversely impact minority students in the public education system.
When Walcott did an online presentation for his school about the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, he couldn’t help but cry. He was reading out the names of the victims of police brutality and racism. It was then that his students asked him, “What can we do? Do petitions work?”
He told them they do — that “civic engagement is the way of the future.” He then realized that he also has a responsibility to fight for change.
“I just don’t ever want to stand in front of my students again urging them to be active in trying to change the system without ever having done it myself.”
Walcott also believes that “there are practices and policies that need to be reviewed and changed in every institution.” This can be seen in the outlined possible approaches of the task force in their research. They want to focus on the analysis of the many factors that contribute to the outcomes of the educational system.
These factors include the social determinants of health, the impact of the new model of equitable funding for resource allocation models, curriculum programs, course enrolment based on race, gender and economic class to identify trends and limitations to distribution of equitable opportunities, and trends in hiring practices to identify potential bias.
Walcott notes that the anecdotal evidence on racism people see and experience every day is there. It’s present in Calgary’s schools. It has been experienced by him, students and colleagues.
“People anywhere can tell you about being called a slur, feeling looked at in stores, being hesitant around authority figure,” he added.
Propagating a culture of anti-discrimination and anti-bias in schools is what Walcott aims in building this task force. To do this, the people behind the petition also included in their plan the development of many school-based resources which can promote that very school culture. This includes the development of school-based equity committees, professional learning programs about anti-discrimination for staff, and a locally created strictly focused anti-discrimination course.
For Walcott and his team, they deem that the ideal members of this task force will be a combination of local educators, policy makers and analysts. Mount Royal University and University of Calgary’s Public Policy, Education, History and Sociology faculties and students are also potential partners of the task force.
“The end result will be a more culturally responsive pedagogy and practice that will be embedded into every person,” Walcott emphasized.
If there’s one thing that worries Walcott, it’s the image that this task force is a means of calling people out or alienating them. But to this sentiment, Walcott assured, “I want to call them in and be a part of the conversation. Let’s reflect together — no shame, just growth.”
As of June 27, 2020, there are more than 6,000 signatures in the petition. Although Walcott believes in the power of this initiative, he also knows that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to racism. He believes that the success of the task force can be done through “strategic partnerships, calling people in, having uncomfortable conversations, and pushing for the data that is needed to identify the roots of this system.”