By Jennifer Partridge
Recently the Davis School District was in the news for being investigated by the Department of Justice for “serious and widespread racial harassment.”
Just a few weeks prior, I learned that a black student at one of our Provo high schools found racist, threatening notes on his car -- and this was not the first time it has happened to him. Parents have shared with me other incidents from the past few years: An Asian student was taunted repeatedly by other students who would make squinty eyes every time he walked by. A family who moved here from Jordan was told that they should go back to their country, and their 5th grade son even received an email death threat.
These events just break my heart. How is this okay? Especially in a community that is predominantly Christian such as ours, why is this happening? I just don’t understand how a community that generally is service-oriented and believes in loving their neighbor also has a pattern of frequent racist incidents. There is a disconnect somewhere.
What can we do to better live what we know?
I recently heard a discussion about this on KSL radio, and I really appreciated what Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams said: “When I read it [the DOJ report], it didn’t sound like us. But in reality it is us.”
He acknowledged the problem rather than denying it. I think that’s the first step. As much as we want to believe we are a community that is welcoming for everyone, we have to recognize that we can and we must improve. We need to take individual responsibility and recognize that this is not a “someone else” problem.
Second, we need to have the conversation. Talk with your family. Help your children connect the dots between what you teach them regarding kindness and how it applies in specific situations. Often both kids and adults believe in being kind and yet they get in situations where they are “just joking around” and don’t see how hurtful their behavior is.
Another reason to have the conversation . . . Did you know that high school students are using the N-word as a slang term to mean the equivalent of “dude”? That was shocking to me when I first heard this from some PTA parents recently. I realized that I’ve never talked to my own children specifically about this. For my generation, it is pretty well-understood that this is an offensive word that is not to be used. I thought everyone understood that and therefore never explicitly taught my kids. But the high schoolers don’t know that. They are not trying to be unkind or offensive. They think it’s just a slang term that they’ve heard in some pop culture. Talk to your kids about this so that they don’t hurt people around them by using the word.
We also need to have the conversation as a community. Provo is full of diversity. How can we celebrate and welcome that? Why do people sometimes feel threatened by those who look different or come from a different culture? What can we do to overcome those fears and instead come together as a community?
No matter their color or background, every single person deserves to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect. They are a fellow human being who is much more like you than they are different. We cannot allow the small differences to divide us. Let’s work together to make our community a place where everyone feels valued, loved, and welcomed. As we do so, we will be stronger and we will all rise together.
For details about what the Provo City School District does to make our schools welcoming places for all students and families, please visit the website: https://provo.edu/student-services/equity-diversity/
Jennifer Partridge is a wife and mom to 3 boys and 1 girl, ages 12-20. She also loves being the “American Mom” to exchange student daughters. Currently she is hosting a student from Spain, and she keeps in touch with the past 3 students regularly. Jennifer grew up in Tampa, Florida but has lived in Provo all of her adult life. She currently serves on the Provo School District Board of Education and helped bring the kindness initiative to our schools seven years ago when she was serving as the district PTA president. She loves chocolate, Disneyland, date nights at all of the amazing Provo restaurants, working out, and traveling.