Opinion | Why diversity within staff is important for BIPOC students at ETHS

While we’re all told that diversity within staff is important, it takes time to really understand the importance behind diversity. Overall, ETHS’ student body features a diversity that the school shapes many programs around. But why can’t we say the same for staff? 

According to ETHS’s Illinois Report Card of 2020-2021, 69 percent of teachers are white while 16 percent are Black, seven percent are Hispanic and seven percent are Asian. With 45.6 percent of students being white, that leaves 53.2 percent of BIPOC students, which include Hispanic, Black, Asian, Indian American, Pacific Islanders and more. As a student myself, it’s important to be able to look up to staff who you can relate to. It’s not only important for BIPOC students to see themselves in teachers, but it also provides a sense of belonging and security for BIPOC students, which can possibly enhance the way students perform academically.

This issue is not new either. The Evanstonian’s piece, “Black teacher shortage affects the nation, ETHS” that dates all the way back to October 20, 1972, shares “Between 7% and 10% of the classroom teachers are black, while 20-25% of the student body is Black.” This means that since 1972, our Black staff only increased by around six percent. Between those 50 years, ETHS has been missing BIPOC staff that our BIPOC students would have looked up to.

Teachers here at ETHS share that their experience as the minority group of staff have been overall positive but do encounter challenges that they carry alongside with them. Challenges they face might not be directly toward them but do affect the way they view this topic and why they think it’s important for students to see teachers like them. 

“ It’s easier to see yourself as a scholar in the classroom, when you can identify with that teacher,” English teacher Abdel Shakur says “I think it’s also important to feel a sense of community and maybe even purpose. That’s one of the things I hoped for, for students that, you know, have that kind of common, shared identity and identity with me [to have] a common purpose, and we feel like we’re on the same team.” 

During my 7th grade year at Chute Middle School, one of the Latinx assistant teachers in my math class took a group of Latinx students with him aside and explained that, if we needed help with anything, he was there to help. The same assistant teacher carried onto my 8th grade math class and was always there providing help, not only for Latinx students in specific, but to everyone as well. Having this teacher by my side that was able to provide help made me feel connected with what Mr. Shakur said about students being able to feel a community and feel like they’re on the same team since I really did feel a community within my classrooms with people I could relate to and talk about our cultures without feeling unheard or judged. Although some BIPOC students don’t mind teachers who don’t always look like them, it’s always nice to know that you have someone you can relate to.

Spanish teacher Fernando Campos adds “If there’s a young Black student who talks at their dinner table, is loud at parties and dances to every song and just cultural differences that white teachers might not view as something good or something glorified, something valued right? Where a teacher of color might be like ;Oh, dang you know this jam?’ That’s the difference. So for students, it’s literally who is judging me? Who is grading me? Who is the person that is grading me. Right? And that’s where the shortfall comes for kids of color when they don’t have teachers of color.” 

Like  Campos says, it is important for there to be staff that look like BIPOC students, not only for that feeling of validity but also cases of discrimination. Although we hate to hear it, cases of discrimination between white teachers and BIPOC students really do happen everywhere, and not only at ETHS. Providing the school with more BIPOC teachers can be one of the many ways we can prevent discrimination between staff and students while giving students of color a greater chance at success in their academics. ETHS ultimately needs to take the initiative to hire and train more BIPOC teachers if it truly cares about the diverse body of students it teaches every day.