Madden, Kenyatta lead discussion on racism on high school and college campuses

HARRISBURG, March 25 -- Education and shattering social norms are key in combatting racism in high schools and colleges, as evidenced by testimony at today’s House Democratic Policy Committee hearing hosted by state Reps. Maureen Madden and Malcolm Kenyatta.

The Monroe and Philadelphia County legislators led today’s discussion bringing together state officials, students and educators to brainstorm solutions that aim to help break cycles of systemic racism via policy development and implementation.

“How do we start conversations that help people understand that freedom of speech should not be a free pass for racism? We all deserve to be respected and the blatant hate and disrespect for others is impacting lives. Hate has no place in our education system. Students go to school to learn, grow and often overcome any barriers the hand that life has dealt them. I’m grateful for this forum today to learn what’s happening in our education system and what lawmakers can do to overcome the racism in our schools,” Madden shared.

“Terms like ‘diversity quota’ and ‘affirmative action applicant’ are just some of the covertly racist insults that disparage the merits of students and faculty of color in academia. Ultimately, these slights have devastating effects on the emotional and mental health of these students and faculty, thereby straining their likelihood to graduate and excel at these institutions,” Kenyatta said. “Today’s policy hearing provided a better scope into the experiences of students and faculty of color and gives clarity as to why their successes are stymied. I intend to use this testimony to draft meaningful policy to address these issues in academic institutions across our commonwealth.”

Chad Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, shared compelling testimony about incidents the commission mediated, the struggles they face in implementing change, and encouraged anyone experiencing racism and bias to use the commission as a resource. 

Students Ewan Johnson, former Temple University Student, and Albert Rivera, East Stroudsburg University student, shared their own experiences with racism and discrimination, how they have worked to overcome the heartbreak that comes with these incidents and their dedication to improving their school environment for everyone.

Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, associate professor of Urban Theater and Community Engagement at Temple University shared a list of racially charged incidents on campus and how Temple University is leveraging funding to create programs to facilitate change.

More stories of racism and disparity in representation at staff levels were shared by Tameko Patterson. Patterson is a member of the East Stroudsburg University Council of Trustees, president of Stroudsburg Area School District Board of School Directors, and chair of the Education and Legal Redress Committees for the Monroe County Branch of the NAACP.

Professor Heath Fogg-Davis, director of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Temple University, shared the disparity in teacher and staff diversity and highlighted how improving policies to foster diversity helps set a powerful path to success for students of color.

The mental health and development of children was included in testimony submitted by Christa Caceres, president of the Monroe County NAACP and parent to a child in the East Stroudsburg Area School District. More stories of racism and bullying were shared along with the impacts these incidents have on communities of color.

Hearing testimony and full video from today’s hearing is available by clicking here.