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Local High School Alumni Call for Curriculum to Include More Black and Indigenous History

wikipedia / Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee
Alumni from Barnstable High School and Sandwich High School are asking for changes in school curricula.

School officials in Sandwich and in Barnstable will meet with graduates in the coming days to discuss how to better include Black and Indigenous history and discussions on race and racism into school curricula. The meetings stem from two separate letters written and signed by more than 15-hundred  alumni from both districts asking for these changes. 

WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Sandwich High School class of 2018 graduate Clare Mulroy and Barnstable High School graduating senior Margo Silliman about what they’d like to see happen in their former school districts. She asked Margo Silliman what prompted her to sign on as a letter writer along with six other authors. Margo said she’s realized she has a lot to learn about race as a white woman about to enter college.

Silliman I personally feel like I have had teachers that have taken the extra step to try to teach us about events of racism in the country and in our country's history. But, it's not an across the curriculum requirement. And there's so much that I'm still learning that I wish it could be something that we were learning in school.

Eident Sandwich High School graduate Clare Mulroy agrees. She says once she got to college, she started thinking more deeply about what she'd missed in her high school classes.

Mulroy I was seeing a lot of Black Lives Matter awareness increase on social media. And from my community and school, it's a lot more politically active, I think, in terms of social justice than it is in Sandwich. And Sandwich being such a white town, I mean, it's literally 97 percent white. I acknowledge that I am white.

I was trying to figure out a way that I could create this change in my community, or at least start it because, I was reflecting on things that I had learned and things that I hadn't learned during my time at Sandwich High School, things about Juneteenth or things about the Stonewall Riots. And I didn't learn about any of this in school. Really, the only time we touched upon race was talking about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. And I was like, there's so much more that really should be implemented in education.

Eident Mulroy says she talked with several classmates of color from Sandwich High School for their ideas and input as she researched and wrote her letter.

Silliman says the Barnstable school district needs to again reconsider the school mascot, a Red Raider. She says she's seen students push to change it on online platforms like Instagram over the last few weeks, where there's a new account dedicated to airing anonymous student stories of racist acts across Cape Cod.

Silliman We can't push for, you know, more equity and not acknowledge the fact that this mascot is racist. When they claim that we want to be proud of it and we are never educated about it. I believe our old logo is actually modeled after a specific Wampanoag and like, we don't learn any of that. We don't know any of it.

Eident While Sandwich does not have a Native American as its school mascot, Clare Mulroy says the district could do a better job teaching about Native Americans who were here on the Cape and around the region well before any white settlers.

Mulroy Living on colonized land gives us a responsibility to discuss that. There are active tribes around us that have these rich cultures and histories and traditions and practices that we don't need to learn about. I mean, when I was in third grade, I learned the Pilgrims came over and they met the Native Americans and they taught them how to grow food and they were friends. And, I didn't learn anything about genocide—I mean, to that point, too, it should be more than just genocide and Thanksgiving. There's culture and traditions in their own unique history that we need to learn about.

Eident Both women agree that their former school districts need to also help students understand how racism isn't just limited to acts of hatred and that racism is systemic.

Silliman We need to be able to have uncomfortable conversations. The sad thing has never been a part of our education, and I think that a lot of people are to ignorant to like, maybe if you make that comment, or maybe if you treat this student a certain way, it could have an effect that has to do something that you're not even clear about.

Eident That's Silliman again. She says she learned that advanced courses and gifted programs typically have fewer black students, something she says needs to change at Barnstable High School.

Silliman It reminds me of affirmative action a little bit, in the sense that, you have to look at the inequalities in people's early education and figure out how to fix that and incorporate it into gifted programs and that type of thing.

Eident Clare Mulroy wants Sandwich teachers to talk with students more openly about white privilege.

Mulroy There tends to be the kind of attitude that because Sandwich is so white, you just don't need to talk about race. But I think if anything, it's all the more important that we do talk about race, because not only do we want to make sure the handful of students of color at Sandwich are comfortable, but we also want to make sure that we are recognizing that we have this sort of whitewashed curriculum that is catering to us as white people. I learned about people that look like me. I learned about people that have lives like me. And that's not something that is really completely covering the entire student population.

Eident Both Mulroy and Silliman acknowledge some of their requests will take time. Both women have meetings planned with school officials in the coming days. But I asked them: What happens in the fall when their college courses startup? Here's Silliman.

Silliman Something that I would like to do is connect with some more underclassman. So, I was president of student council, but I'm thinking about having student council be like maybe an entity that has the specific task of making sure that these changes are implemented. And then I think we're all still open to being a part of the conversation anyway.

Eident Mulroy also hopes current students will continue to advocate for change.

Mulroy I'm willing to put in as many hours as I need you to get some of the legwork done this summer. And I'm also going to look for students, especially students of color in Sandwich, that are able to advocate for this in the future.

But, I think I don't know if I would have ever dared to do this in high school just because being a student and like taking on the administration and critiquing them is hard when you're in school and you're so close. I'm hoping that I can get most of the legwork done this summer so that hopefully if we end up creating a diversity inclusion board of strictly students, hopefully those students can just keep pushing this momentum forward and not have to start from scratch. I think that there needs to be change, and I think now is definitely the time for change.

Eident That's Sandwich High School class of 2018 graduate Clare Mulroy. You also heard from Barnstable High School graduating senior Margo Silliman.

We'll be talking more about race in education coming up on the Point next week, Wednesday July 8, 2020 at 9am. 


Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.