A group formed after Bangor High School students shared their experiences with racism at the predominantly white school wants more diversity in hiring and course curriculums as well as an audit to point out how Bangor schools could become more inclusive.
The recommendations come from a 40-member advisory committee that shared its suggestions with the Bangor School Committee last week. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee formed after reports about racism at Bangor High became public in 2020.
That’s when several Black students at Bangor High School told the Bangor Daily News that white students had called them the N-word and defended slavery and white supremacy in class discussions. An outside investigation completed later that year confirmed those students’ reports.
“We’re doing this work because students have been hurt in the past, and that’s why we’ve spent all this time and brought all these people together to do this work,” Bangor School Committee member Clare Mundell said. “Our kids have been waiting for a long time for this kind of work to be implemented. The diversity, equity and inclusion committee has been around for two years and I think it’s time for us to embrace this incredible work the committee has done and run with it.”
The committee’s recommendations included hiring and retaining staff who represent the diversity of the U.S., not just Bangor, so students are exposed to leaders from a variety of backgrounds.
Examining and changing curriculum so students are exposed to course materials and texts that feature diverse perspectives, cultures and identities was also among the recommendations.
Another recommendation centered on adding training for students on mental health awareness, bystander intervention and communicating across differences.
The Bangor School Committee is scheduled to review the recommendations this week, according to Dana Carver-Bailer, the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator and committee chair.
The district also has the opportunity to partner with the University of Maine to conduct equity audits over the next academic year, said committee member Regina Phillips. The audits would allow students, teachers and administrators to share their experiences in Bangor schools and areas in which they’d like to see the district improve.
The district could also create focus groups of underrepresented students that would allow those students to share their experiences attending Bangor schools, Phillips said.
The committee presented the results of a Johns Hopkins Culture Survey, which highlighted areas where the district needs to make changes to improve the experience for students and staff. The study results showed how and where students and staff of underrepresented identities experienced bias.
One of the group’s subcommittees made an 82-page student handbook designed to help new students, especially those from immigrant families. It holds information about how to open a locker, find classes, and access food and warm clothing if needed, said committee member and Bangor High School senior Isabel Kidwell.
School board members agreed that making some of the recommended changes could spur uncomfortable or difficult conversations about polarizing issues.
In the past, lessons in Bangor schools on diversity equity have brought backlash on the educators leading the lessons and discussions.
In 2020, a seventh-grade teacher at Bangor’s James F. Doughty School became the target of online vitriol after a parent shared a video lesson she delivered about racial privilege and identity to a pro-Trump Facebook group.
The board and Superintendent James Tager also agreed, however, that the hard work still needs to be done to combat hate, bigotry, racism, sexism and homophobia students and staff may be experiencing not just in Bangor schools but in the community.
“We’re not naive to the national rhetoric right now, but I think as a school district and committee, we need to double down on our commitment and integrity,” school committee chair Marwa Hassanien said. Hassanien also serves as the diversity, equity and inclusion committee’s vice chair and Northern Light Health’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We represent equity and a culture of acceptance and belonging for every student,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear, and catering to that fear will not help our students. We have to be our students’ voices, and that’s what this is about.”