Ida Casey

Structural and institutionalized racism occurs everywhere — even in nice places like a great, high-achieving, culturally relevant high school like Cardinal Ritter Prep, which decided to suspend its football season.

Why are students being punished for adult mistakes? And, why is it okay? And, who is speaking up for these students, citing that fairness has been left out of the equation?

Educational communities are responsible for the kind of treatment and support provided to students, and when poor, racist-embedded policies are allowed to dictate how students are treated, the “Black lives don’t matter” mentality is perpetrated in schools and communities. 

There are so many variables in this scenario that it is difficult to choose just one outcome as a result of poor decision-making. When do we begin to show our black youth that we have their backs and support them, even when they make mistakes? We continue to harshly punish them without looking at all of the factors, and we ignore the impact of the decisions. And, most importantly, we miss the opportunity for a meaningful teachable moment and instead we choose to punish.

Some might wince at the mention that an institution like Cardinal Ritter would have an institutional racist problem, mainly because of the makeup of the student population and its incorporation of culturally relevant curriculum. Let’s face it, though, racism is a part of the cultural fabric in which we live, no matter what the student and staff make up. Structural and institutionalized racism usually goes unnoticed or ignored. 

What many don’t see, realize or suspect is that institutional policies are usually written from a biased or racist concept based on the idea that African Americans need harsher rules to keep them in line or teach them lessons. This becomes a part of the very structure in which institutions operate and work. Institutional racism is perpetuated by seemingly innocent, normal events and daily occurrences and interactions.

The Cardinal Ritter administration and MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) laws have taken things away from these kids based on decisions made by adults.  I’m not sure if this is what MSHSAA spokesman meant when he said, "What can we change to change the mentality that this thought is even acceptable?"

I hope that he meant that the policy is very punitive and it’s unacceptable to make the students suffer for the adults’ mistakes. Maybe he was referring to the fact that the actions of the coach were unacceptable, which I agree with if done intentionally.

"While this is a very difficult time for Cardinal Ritter, it is important to us to honor the school's mission of Faith Development, Academics and Leadership—and the responsibility it has to its students, its community and our Catholic faith to live out that mission—in all that we do," Cardinal Ritter President Tamiko Armstead stated. I would question how this decision honors their responsibility to students. Parents of these students may have been appeased because they trust the school to do the right thing. Parents of Black students are often made to feel that their children require more discipline and that schools need to step in to help them.

Unfortunately the system works this way – subliminal, nefarious institutionalized racism disempowers parents of black children by taking control of parenting, convincing them that these rules must be enforced for the success of their children and to teach them character, leadership and responsibility. We ignore the fact that policies are written with the goal to exclude and eliminate, which is the outcome for many black students. 

I would hope that Cardinal Ritter College Prep takes this incident to review its policies and the effects that they can have on students. This was a missed opportunity for the school to use the situation to build the students’ leadership skills, to strengthen a participatory student culture, and to foster student engagement and inclusion in real issues that impact them. 

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