Nearly Half of Kentucky Students Say Schools Need to Do More to Address Racism

FRANKFORT — Today at the Capitol, high school researchers from the Kentucky Student Voice Team released their Race to Learn Study, distilling the results from the 10,725 Kentucky middle and high school students from 114 counties who took their Race, Ethnicity, and School Climate Student Survey in December.

Flanked by peers holding boards with graphs and pie charts to illustrate their findings, Pragya Upreti, a senior from Lafayette High School in Lexington and one of the 26 students from across the state who led the initiative, explained the motivation behind the research.

“The Race to Learn Study is a student-driven initiative launched in the midst of heated local and national conversations about whether and how to discuss issues related to race and ethnicity in school. The goal was to capture the ongoing experiences of Kentucky youth to better inform public discourse around the subject and ensure policies that are student-centered,” Upreti said.

The team described six broad themes that emerged from their qualitative and quantitative data, highlighting numerous key data points and directly quoting anonymous students who responded to the survey’s open-response questions to further illuminate them. Among the Kentucky Student Voice Team’s key findings:

Nearly half (46%) of all students surveyed express that racism is a prevalent issue that Kentucky schools need to address.

Too many Kentucky students contribute to a school climate that feels exclusive to students of color. 31% of Kentucky students of color responding to the survey reported that they often hear students make insensitive comments about the race or ethnicity of other students in school.

A fair number of Kentucky students perceive racial or ethnic bias in the way rules are enforced in school. 18% of all students and 23% of students of color surveyed report that rules are “rarely” or “never” fairly enforced for students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

39% of Kentucky students of color report that since Kindergarten, they have never had a teacher of a similar racial or ethnic background, with a correlation between students who have never had a teacher of a similar racial or ethnic background and those who expressed a lack of belonging in their school.

Abraham Garcia-Romero, a researcher and senior from Ohio County High School who traveled two and a half hours to the event from his home, said with just a few weeks left in Kentucky’s legislative session, the student researchers felt urgency in sharing back what they heard from other students. Garcia-Romero cited the current session’s House Bills 14 and 18 as examples of a number of harmful pieces of legislation that would limit what teachers are allowed to discuss with students in school.

“While some policymakers may believe that having open discussion about the history and legacy of racism creates problems, thousands of Kentucky students who responded to our survey, including both white students and students of color, believe that doing so actually addresses them” he said. “Kentucky’s conversations about what we need from our schools should include Kentucky’s students.”

About KSVT

The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.

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