Evanston Township High School officials struck an urgent tone at a school board meeting Monday, Dec. 12, discussing safety and wellbeing concerns for young Black students.
“There are definitely Black students who are achieving and doing remarkable things, so we’re not talking about all of them,” ETHS board Vice President and McGaw YMCA President Monique Parsons said. “But there are students where if we don’t intervene, it’s a matter of life or death. And that is how bad it is for a certain population in our community.”
Parsons, a longtime advocate for the local Black community, spoke about her worries and fears for the public safety needs of some Black students.
Parsons, board President Pat Savage-Williams and other district leaders repeatedly said they were not talking about all Black students, but rather a “certain” population or group of teenagers.
ETHS Student Success Center Specialist Terrance Stevenson, Equity Analyst Lauren Hamilton and Director of Equity Ganae McAlpin-Toney led the 45-minute discussion, which centered on support systems for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students at ETHS.
Stevenson, who works closely with Black boys, said his focus is giving them a space to reflect and process their experiences.
He added that his work is “triage” right now because of the sheer amount of challenges that Black boys in Evanston are facing, from violence to housing insecurity to family crises at home.
Stevenson talked about encountering a group of students in a bathroom during a class period recently. Stevenson asked the students why they were not in class and the boys opened up: Some of them talked about being hungry because they missed breakfast, while others said they felt invisible in the hallways or worried about being targeted by a school security officer.
Good strategies in place
Yet, while discussing the issues, the officials also laid out the extensive preventive and mentoring work being done at ETHS with the help of partnerships.
Every week, members of the Evanston alumni chapter of the historically Black Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity visit the Student Success Center, according to Stevenson. Additionally, the Northwestern University-ETHS partnership office coordinates a series of mentorship and relationship-building events every academic quarter as part of a program called Black Men Lead.
“I think one of the ways to combat the pervasiveness of anti-Blackness that our boys and girls are faced with is working with our teachers,” Hamilton said.
“I think there’s still a lot of fear of our young men that is impacting their experience day to day, so I think that’s a front that we have to continue to work hard on. And it’s not just on the Black folks sitting up here.”
Hamilton and McAlpin-Toney are also working with a group of 23 Black girls at ETHS this year as part of a mentorship program called SHADES that they launched for female-identifying students. Asked by board members about other opportunities focused on Hispanic students who may experience similar feelings of disconnectedness or racism at school, McAlpin-Toney said she is working on a “SHADES of Brown” program specifically for that population.
Echoing Stevenson’s concerns, Parsons said the safety situation is dire for some young populations locally. She said she is “deeply concerned about our Black students in Evanston.”