Exclusive Blueprint Interview with Principal Travis Bell

Editor-in-Chief Jamie Lattin conducted this Blueprint interview for the Antiracism in Lamorinda story. To view the story, click here.

Lattin: How do you think our district can best support antiracist practices? 

Bell: I think there’s a lot to that. I think first and foremost is making sure that we are doing our own individual work on what it means to be antiracist educators, so continuing to partner with organizations like PEG (Pacific Education Group) and Beyond Diversity, where we’re training our staff on how to engage in conversations about race. So I think it definitely starts with that personal work and then I think from there that’s going to help us identify systems, policies, and practices that perpetuate racist behaviours or systems that perpetuate racism that we need to identify and dismantle, whatever that looks like. 

Lattin: In terms of our current policy on racism, how do you think we can adequately enforce a “no-tolerance” policy?

Bell: I think one thing that we need to do is actually name racism in the policy. I would say that that’s one example where, in our own whiteness of writing policies– I should speak for myself– that that’s not something that stood out to me as lacking in our no-tolerance policy. We need to call that out and name that. We’ve been working for the past year on a district-wide policy responding to the use of the n-word and I think that that’s something that we need to move quickly on, making sure it’s published and out there and responding appropriately on that and making sure that our staff and our students are made aware of our stance on that word, being that it is not allowed to be used or on our campus. So I think we need to identify those areas and then name them and make them really clear. When we name it, then we’re able to see it and call it out when needed. 

Lattin: Under that policy, what would the response to the racist video be?

Bell: It takes a hard stand that that word is not allowed and that appropriate discipline would be used. So I think sometimes the appropriate discipline is education and making sure we talk about what restorative practices look like. And so what does that look like to try to restore the harm that was done in something like that? We’ve had examples here on campus where we’ve had a student who’s come in and reported use of that word. And that resulted in both discipline for that student who said the word in the form of a detention, but also, the restorative part of that was learning about why that word is inappropriate and not to be used. And then even having a conversation with the student that reported it, owning where the harm landed, you know? So that person got a chance to hear from that person the offense that was there. We know that that’s not always the best response, like in some cases, we don’t want to, retraumatize a student and have to make them sit in a restorative circle. That was something that the student who reported it was really interested in doing. And I would say in that case, it was really effective, but we know it’s going to be different every time. There has to be both a consequence and the education of, “Here’s why here’s why that was offensive. And here’s how it offended either a singular person in the case of what I just shared or how it offended multiple people in a community.”

Lattin: How do you think students can contribute to antiracism within our schools?
Bell: Again, I think education is huge. So I would say we live in a predominantly white community and we need to identify that, we need to recognize that, and we need to recognize how to identify our own whiteness as a race and the respect and the responsibility that comes with that. One thing that students can do right now is get educated on racism in America. That’s something that adults can do too. So if students or staff haven’t read White Fragility by Robin Angelo, they absolutely should be reading that. That’s the first step in naming your own whiteness as race and seeing how racism exists. She does a good job of really calling out what we hold as a good, bad binary. So that’s something I would recommend for all students and staff to start with. She says one reason that white people have such a hard time talking about race is they view racism as this good, bad binary, because the way racism is portrayed in the media and to us, the way it’s taught about in history classes is “if you are racist, you are evil.” And it really holds up these very evil people who did really absolutely awful, awful things, but it doesn’t leave room for the subtle racism that we all exhibit cause we’re steeped in white whiteness in a racist culture in society. And so it doesn’t allow room for us to call out like those subtle ways that we perpetuate racism in both systematic and systemic ways. And that doesn’t make us bad people, but we need to know. Once we know better, we can do better. So I think that a great way that students and staff can start is by recognizing their own race as white or other, and then how that plays out in our culture and society. I would also say another great book that they can read is How to be an Antiracist. Robin Diangelo is a white woman who wrote White Fragility. How to be an Antiracist is written by a Black man named Ibram Kendi. He does a really great job of like these little vignettes of history, racial history, in the world and namely in the U.S. so he highlights these sort of vignettes and then he defines both racism and antiracism. So for every racist term that he defines, he also gives us a definition of that term from an antiracist perspective. And I would say again, once we know better, we can do better. So when we know, like, “here’s truly what antiracism looks like, and that’s the direction that we want to take” and not just saying, “well, this is racist, but we’re not going to really define what the antithesis of that is.” What is the anti-racist way? If we don’t define that, then we don’t know that correct way forward. I think that first and foremost is educating ourselves. I need to continue to educate myself. I need to continue to do my personal work on what that looks like, and I would encourage others to do the same.

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