New Trier civil rights seminar day inspires dialogue

After weeks of controversy over what students would hear during New Trier High School's seminar day on racial civil rights, the lineup of speakers and workshops passed Tuesday without protest and Supt. Linda Yonke said it appeared to have attracted more...

New Trier civil rights seminar day inspires dialogue

After weeks of controversy over what students would hear during New Trier High School's seminar day on racial civil rights, the lineup of speakers and workshops passed Tuesday without protest and Supt. Linda Yonke said it appeared to have attracted more...

28 February 2017 Tuesday 22:03
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New Trier civil rights seminar day inspires dialogue

After weeks of controversy over what students would hear during New Trier High School's seminar day on racial civil rights, the lineup of speakers and workshops passed Tuesday without protest and Supt. Linda Yonke said it appeared to have attracted more participation than a similar day held last year.

Administrators should have a better idea Wednesday of what percentage of students attended events at the district's Winnetka and Northfield campuses, Yonke said at the end of the school day, "but the auditorium filled up twice (for the keynote speaker at the Winnetka campus), so I'd say there was more turnout."

"Everything was well planned, and the speakers told us how impressed they were with our kids," she said.

Hundreds attend New Trier board meeting, most in support of upcoming civil rights seminar day Kathy Routliffe

The president of the New Trier Township High School District 203 board had a simple message for the hundreds of people who showed up at Monday night's meeting for intense debate about the school's civil rights seminar day next week.

"Our message to the New Trier community is that this all-school...

The president of the New Trier Township High School District 203 board had a simple message for the hundreds of people who showed up at Monday night's meeting for intense debate about the school's civil rights seminar day next week.

"Our message to the New Trier community is that this all-school...

(Kathy Routliffe)

The seminar day had roused both opposition and support from parents and residents in the North Shore district. Critics had said the lineup of speakers lacked conservative voices, while supporters said the events would help students make up their own minds about civil rights issues. Hundreds attended a school board meeting Feb. 20 during which the main topic of discussion was the upcoming seminar, although the majority in attendance appeared to be in favor of holding the event as planned.

Yonke said neither campus reported protests Tuesday about the day's activities.

Some students at the Winnetka campus said after school that attendance was good, at least at that campus.

Kenilworth senior Audrey Green said she thought there were fewer seniors at school than on a normal day, but said other grade levels appeared to have been well-represented.

Green said she attended a session on transgender rights and one on "micro-aggressions," and was impressed with both.

Hundreds attend meeting on upcoming New Trier civil rights seminar day Kathy Routliffe

Hundreds of New Trier High School parents, school district residents and others packed the school's Cornog Auditorium Monday night for a school board meeting where the main topic of discussion was expected to be New Trier's upcoming seminar day on racial civil rights.

People began filing into the...

Hundreds of New Trier High School parents, school district residents and others packed the school's Cornog Auditorium Monday night for a school board meeting where the main topic of discussion was expected to be New Trier's upcoming seminar day on racial civil rights.

People began filing into the...

(Kathy Routliffe)

"There was no 'Shame on you for not knowing, or because you're white or because you're not LGBT,'" she said. "It was very non-accusatorial. I learned a lot, politics wasn't mentioned once, and no one told me how I was supposed to feel or think."

Some students, though, took part in alternative activities.

Freshman Will Birck, of Wilmette, was part of a small contingent of students and parents who instead headed to Chicago's Englewood neighborhood to visit Project HOOD, an anti-violence program focused on providing education, job training and other services for children and adults in Englewood and Woodlawn.

The project is run by the Rev. Corey Brooks, a minister from the South Side of Chicago who had argued at the Feb. 20 school board meeting for broader points of view to be included in the seminar day, even offering himself as a speaker. He also said that poverty, not race, was a critical issue.

Birck, who described his parents as conservative and said he felt like the day's speakers "were all from the more left side of the political spectrum," said he heard about Brooks from his mother, who attended the board meeting.

The spirited debate at New Trier: Civil rights awareness or 'indoctrination day'? Editorial Board

New Trier high school parents, students and community members are engaged in a bracing conversation about race and civil rights. And that's even before the elite North Shore school stages a daylong civil rights seminar for students on Tuesday.

The seminar — billed as "Understanding Today's Struggle...

New Trier high school parents, students and community members are engaged in a bracing conversation about race and civil rights. And that's even before the elite North Shore school stages a daylong civil rights seminar for students on Tuesday.

The seminar — billed as "Understanding Today's Struggle...

(Editorial Board)

"She heard him say that the problem wasn't necessarily about the color of your skin but more a lesson about economics, and that really appealed to me," Birck said.

He said talking to Brooks and to students at one of Brooks' school programs was "very touching."

"We tried to find similarities between us, but we also found a lot of differences between us. I think that's important," he said.

Birck said he looked forward to hearing from friends who did attend the seminar day about what they learned and sharing his experience with them.

Wilmette senior Nalani Wean, who helped organize some of the more than 100 seminars and workshops, said she thought the day went smoother and was better attended than last year's, which was held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"Just like last year, there are definitely things that could be fixed, but I think there was more knowledge about the day. I talked to students who said that now they understand more about racism and that they wanted to keep up with public affairs more than they did before," she said.

New Trier's seminar day did something right: It got people talking

New Trier High School has often been both lauded and derided as the richest public school in the Chicago area. It’s thought of as the school with unfair advantages, privileged students, and no diversity whatsoever. Beating our high school teams is treated as a moral victory by some opponents.

But...

New Trier High School has often been both lauded and derided as the richest public school in the Chicago area. It’s thought of as the school with unfair advantages, privileged students, and no diversity whatsoever. Beating our high school teams is treated as a moral victory by some opponents.

But...

Read the story

Senior Karina Garcia, also of Wilmette, said she attended a workshop on Latinos in the United States; her second session centered on the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I'd expected it to get a little out of hand, but it didn't. There were many different opinions. If someone disagreed, they raised their hand and showed their point," she said. "Everyone seemed to be OK at the end. There was no bad blood, but there were definitely a bunch of opinions. Not everyone agreed, but I think we had a good discussion."

All three who attended said they enjoyed novelist Colson Whitehead's keynote speech, which focused on his journey as a writer who also happens to be black.

"There was one question about how he would define racism. His answer was oriented to his writing, about how it's important to deal with the topic," Wean said. "I think what he said was very much like what people who created the day were saying — that it's not a matter of defining racism, it's a matter of addressing it."

Yonke said she attended several of the workshops and a homeroom session.

"I attended one session on cultural appropriation. It was outstanding. … There wasn't 100 percent agreement among the students, which made it interesting and challenging," she said.

kroutliffe@pioneerlocal.com

Twitter @pioneer_kathy

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