What does equity mean to you?

This question was posed on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion page, and as we receive submissions from families and community members we will post their comments along with responses, resources, and an invitation to continue the conversation.

Community response: “Money is power, not skin color. Privilege is the parents who can easily homeschool their kids right now and not have to work and not have to scramble everyday….nothing to do skin pigmentation.”

The response below was provided by Dr. Janis Velasquez-Farmer, director of equity, diversity and inclusion for Bellingham Public Schools. 

Racial privilege is a difficult topic to approach in any situation, and the difficulty has only been exacerbated as all communities and groups continue to struggle during the pandemic.  Levels of struggle differ and, again, exacerbate the difficult topic of privilege.

First, let’s chat about privilege — in this context, we refer privilege as unearned advantages society provides based on a preference for some part of one’s identity.   We know and recognize that many privileges are earned through hard work, resilience, and grit.  Privilege in this conversation, however, refers to social dynamics.  Society places preferences based on an attribute and simultaneously marginalizes those without.

Preferences for visible attributes prevail in the social context, including racial identity, gender identity, able bodied individuals, socioeconomic indicators and more.  These preferences, throughout history, set specific hierarchies for inclusion which show up today in policies and practices.  Examples include indigenous land and water rights, marriage equality, loan practices and educational access.

As our community continues to experience challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic,  unequal distribution of access to resources, set by historical practice, camouflages many racial privileges:

  • Nationally, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities were the most impacted, connected to underlying conditions such as access to health care and frontline, essential, and critical worker occupations.  Even when those same occupations are mostly held by White individuals locally, Latinx, Indigenous, and Black COVID cases are 27.8%, 5.1%, and 1.1%, respectively, even though each group makes up only 9.8%, 3.4%, and 1.3% of our county’s population.
  • As a community, parenting during the pandemic has both challenged and lifted up the adage “it takes a village.”  How do we stay connected, yet socially distant, from our networks?  Households, regardless of race, are juggling school, work, technology, and mental health supports for our kids and ourselves.  Even when the COVID-19 household struggle feels similar, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color continue to face relentless racialized attacks in stores, in virtual classrooms, in workplace policies and practices, and in the media.

Privilege may look and feel different during the pandemic; however, race is ever present and when the worst of the pandemic passes and our children return to school, racialized differences in access and opportunity have a stronghold in our community.  Money is power and most of that power is in the hands of the racial majority.

What are your thoughts? We invite you to comment below.

Comments (20)

  • “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support— kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as “racists.” — Thomas Sowell

    • Happy Valley Elementary is teaching our third graders about White Privilege — whatever that means to the teacher. It appears it is a ‘free for all’ in the schools for any topic or political agenda.

  • Teaching white privilege in itself is racist. People have GOD given talents. Taking those talents away due to the color of their skin is intolerance. Racism against ANY color is still racist. The curriculum being taught in our schools is destructive and creating a more decisive society. Everyone has the ability to love & care for anyone. But, when children are indoctrinated to believe the color of your skin determines a life of privileged or depravity is anything but the American Dream. This kind of teaching will destroy our country & force parents to choose NON Public school options. As we do not want OUR values trampled & our children taught what the family does not believe.

    • Thank you for engaging with us around these topics. The curriculum taught in our schools provides young scholars with historically accurate and inclusive perspectives, setting a foundation for critical thinking and active problem solving. Conversations about privilege/advantage may arise based on inquiry, but there is no specific curriculum on White privilege. Teachers are encouraged to include diverse viewpoints which have been absent from textbooks in the past. We believe all children should be loved and that compassion and service build community, as stated in The Bellingham Promise, and our teaching serves to increase students’ connection to one another and the world. Thank you for continuing the conversation, Elizabeth. We’ll continue to keep comments open on here so we can engage in critical dialogue.

    • Well said Elizabeth. Many parents feel the same way. Unfortunately this district has adopted Critical Race Theory along with its toxic teachings. CRT espouses racist ideas and is in violation of Federal Law. Keep speaking up and be patient, schools will be defending themselves in court soon enough.

      • Hi Christopher! Critical Race Theory (CRT) provides a theoretical foundation for understanding systemic racial inequities. It is not a training or curriculum that any school district can adopt; however, Bellingham Public Schools does focus on inclusive curricula that develops critical thinkers and prepares our children to be global citizens. If you have additional concerns, please let me know.

        Thank you for reading these posts and engaging around these issues.

  • While I agree that CRT is a framework, it does have key tenets which can be adopted. And litigated.

  • Hello! I would love to see the inclusive curriculum being used in BSD! Can you please provide a list of the materials utilized for classrooms or provide a link where I could go to review them? Thank you!

    • Hi TG, thank you for your inquiry. We would love a little more information to effectively answer your question.

      We checked in with Deputy Superintendent Mike Copland and Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Trina Hall and both said they are happy to talk through your request and offer information, samples and/or links to materials to the best of our ability. For example, they can share details about adopted curriculum materials like math or literacy or share links to our library collections. To set up a time to talk to Mike, please call his administrative assistant Polly at 360-676-6470 ext. 6512 or to talk to Trina, please call her administrative assistant Cindy at 360-676-6470 ext. 4447. Thank you!

    • Great question TG. I looked at our EDI section and some of the materials where questionable regarding appropriate age groups. I am curious who decides this. The topics discussed within the classroom this past year were beyond what my child was ready for.

      • HJ – thanks for your questions. The EDI webpage provides learning resources for our educators and families. Our educators apply their own learning, based on grade, level, and classroom community. We, as educators, need to be prepared to support and love all of our students. The complex topics we have been addressing are a response to students and families seeking support and guidance in our schools and classrooms.

  • Dr. Valasquez-Farmer,
    Interesting commentary by you on racial privilege on this BSD site and as head of the EDI program! It is great to hear “white privilege” is not part of the curriculum in our schools – per se.
    It appears from your commentary, which presumably reflects the BSD policy, that privilege from power is the problem and that power is in the “hands of the racial majority”.
    Would you clarify who that racial majority is for the record? And, also how this perceived power problem is to be corrected in the School District’s wisdom?
    Then can you let me and others know if that “racial majority” is otherwise included as part of the BSD curriculum, as well as, how and where such refefences are used?

    Also, can you let us know how the “conversation about privilege/advantage” comes about in the classroom – are these conversations just spontaneous outbursts by students or a designed classroom experience (part of the curriculum)?

    One great lesson I learned in my upbringing is that if i believe in something, not to hide it in vagueness. This way, others are clear on your position and you, at least, appear to actually believe what you espouse. Anything to add here for “clarity”?

    For the record, how any intelligent, critically thinking individual can buy into such a shallow and illogical thought process such as contained in CRT is beyond my comprehension. CRT is at its base an ideology that weaponizes personal grievances, teaches disdain for others and is designed to create discord. CRT is a racist ideology and certainly not a basis upon which to develop critical thinking for developing minds.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Lew! The racial majority, in our local context, is outlined by the US Census Bureau and OSPI’s Bellingham Public Schools Diversity Report. Power and privilege go hand-in-hand in conversations regarding equity in access and racial equity. Reiterating the text above, privilege is contextual and, in this conversation, refers to social advantages, rather than privilege earned by an individual. How does the district intend to address privilege? By ensuring every scholar has equitable access to resources for learning, by including all scholars in the learning environment, and providing an inclusive environment where every child feels loved. The Bellingham Promise, our strategic guide for shaping the future of our community, documents our pathways to creating a socially just environment.

      Curricula in the district is based on standards set by the state. There isn’t one answer to your other questions, as each class is unique. Our teachers address student inquiries about power and privilege at each level and in every subject. For example, the Since Time Immemorial curriculum is differentiated by grade and will address sovereignty and colonization, two topics where privilege and power may arise as students learn about the history of our local context. We provide teachers with resources and support who in turn encourage students to engage with authentic curiosity and critical thinking, so we anticipate our scholars will have many questions.

    • White Privilege is part of the Happy Valley Elementary third grade curriculum. You are wrong in your statement.

  • Dr. Valasquez-Farmer,
    I have to say, I am no further along in my understanding of the EDI program and the guts of what is being taught our children. I have talked to no less than 3 school district people about content and I get the same rehearsed responses referring me to The Bellingham Promise and that there is no set curriculum. What I can find to read on The Bellingham Promise entails no more than what one would expect competent educators to do and how to act. What you have not said outright, but certainly implied, is there is privilege by the white race and this privilege will be addressed by the School District to force “equitable” outcomes (not the same as equal). The many questions about “how” this will be done revolve partially around exactly what is to be taught, at what grade levels and by what participation of parents as to appropriatness of content. No administrator seems willing or able to provide any specifics and, frankly that is suspicious. What are the teachers being told in the way of guidance on teaching these sensitive topics and the appropriate and legally allowed responses to critical inquiries by sudents? – I know they have received state mandated training on the subject of EDI. I will say that if a white student is in any way held out in the school community to be shamed or made to feel responsible for past or present “social privileges”, that is very likely to be a legal problem. If a student is not being provided equal access, inclusion in the school community and an encouraging environment, that is a problem and a noble cause to address. But it should be addressed on an individual basis and the individual’s circumstances. The devil is in the details and we are not getting any details.
    My wife was a teacher and I know her classroom activity was pretty much scheduled as to what was going to be taught on a daily basis. She called them “lesson plans”. And while these lesson plans did not map out every encounter in the classroom, they gave a pretty good roadmap of how the day would ensue and the lessons involved. Furthermore, there were established learning goals expected to be met through those lessons by certain stages of each student’s education.
    To be told no one knows what will be taught in the EDI realm is at best an evasive response and raises credibility issues.

    • I agree that it can be frustrating to feel averted – we are trying to answer your questions. A few points might provide some clarity:

      There is no EDI curriculum to share. If we are actually doing the work equity, diversity and inclusion in our schools, you won’t find a distinct curricula; rather, you’ll see inclusion of voices, stories, and narratives from a variety of perspectives based on the educational standards set by our state. You’ll see characters and authors with different identities, word problems that represent the many families in our community, writing prompts that encourage critical thought, and global viewpoints increase inquiry. Each of our scholars will be able to bring their voices and experiences to the holistic learning environment instead of perpetuating unidirectional teaching practices of the past.

      The EDI strategy in The Bellingham Promise is about three-years-old and the EDI position in the district is less than one-year-old. As time goes on, we may have more concrete examples to share. Right now, I’ve been mostly listening to our educators and families to develop an inclusive, sustainable program. As we continue to develop our collective approach, we will meet the state requirements and do so in a way that encourages community building and relationships.

      I fully agree with you – if we single out a White student, we aren’t being equitable. As such, if we single out a Black or Brown student, we aren’t being equitable. As we help our scholars understand that systems set before them impact access to resources for different communities, we will increase critical compassion, moving us all towards the idea of equitable outcomes. Our scholars can all understand equity and our teachers are incredible at ensuring content is suitable for the ages/grades they work with. Thus, we can’t force equitable outcomes. To get there, we need to identify where learning needs to happen and build out understanding with our community in mind. That includes every scholar and their families.

      The EDI realm is all of education. As the district adopts new materials in every subject, we look for the representation – diverse voices and stories, such as Black and Brown authors, LGBTQIA+ scientists, artists with different abilities and identities, women in STEM, men in teaching positions, and more. This is how we will meet the outcomes of The Bellingham Promise, specifically where every child will be loved.

      • White Privilege is part of the Happy Valley Elementary third grade curriculum. You are wrong in your statement.

        • Hi Pamela,
          Thanks for reaching out. I saw that you provided multiple comments and I hope to address all of them here.

          As stated above, conversations about privilege/advantage may arise during classroom conversation, but Bellingham Public Schools does not have a White privilege curriculum.

          If you have additional questions about classroom conversations or curriculum, your scholar’s teacher or principal are great resources.

    • Hi Pam – I have responded to your comments. I publish comments and responses as I am able. Thanks!