The Issue with the Lack of Racial Diversity in Teaching Staff and Administration

Allison Muzzy, Reporter

With the gravity of the impacts of racial discrimination within the school environment, it is crucial for students of color to feel safe and have trusted staff members to confide in.

According to data collected by United States Census in 2019, 31.7% of Lansing, KS identifies as colored. Within Lansing High School, there is an overwhelming majority of white students, but with the demographics of the city this is to be expected.

2020 data suggest the racial make-up of Lansing High School is roughly the same as the city, with the Kansas State Department of Education reporting that 26.9% of Lansing High School are students of color. 

When looking into the racial makeup of the teaching staff at Lansing High School, the numbers do not match. This is oftentimes commonplace among schools, as districts do not have control over who applies for a position. The lack of diversity in teaching staff, and overall staff, is not Lansing High School administration’s fault, or the district’s fault. 

However, with over a quarter of the student population being of a minority, it is important for students of color to know where or to whom to go when facing racial discrimination.

On the district’s website for Lansing High School there are legal documents regarding discrimination based on race for students and employees. Within the documents it states, 

“Any student who believes he or she has been the subject to racial or disability harassment or has witnessed an act of alleged racial or disability harassment, should discuss the alleged harassment with the building principal, another administrator, the guidance counselor, or another certified staff member (JGECA-2, Racial and Disability Harassment).” 

Mrs. Davis, the Lansing High School’s social worker is also another resource. Lansing High School’s building principal Mr. McKim is an administrative resource for students to go to when facing discrimination. 

Principal Mr. McKim shares, “I haven’t had a lot of that in my four years, but I have had some. Some students have come directly to me, some students of color about ‘Hey could you check in these situations’ whether that be something that has been said by other students or maybe even something they’re reading or being a part of in a class. There’s been a few situations where they have come directly to me. ”

However, all of the administrators and guidance counselors at Lansing High School are white. There is a loss of connection and empathy when discussing discrimination based on being a minority with someone who is not. 

Mr. McKim acknowledges, “I cannot sit here and say 100% that every kid feels comfortable doing it [reporting racial discrimination]. I think there’s different levels of comfort in that.”

It is hard to discuss a specific experience with someone who has not had this experience, and could never imagine having it. This disconnect can lead to many targeted students to be hesitant to report incidents, or to not report them all together. 

Senior Isabella Johnson discusses how the lack of diverse staff can affect students, “It can have a negative effect on students if they experience racial discrimination. If there’s a lack of diversity in administration and people who would be able to deal with it, they might not feel comfortable talking to someone because they’d feel like ‘they don’t understand me’.” 

The lack of reporting does not mitigate the issue and often incidents continue. Repeated targeting leads to the decline of mental health within the students and could possibly lead to the student not coming to school due to the harassment. 

There have been multiple studies done in regards to the impact of racism within the school environment. In “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health”,  published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it notes, “School racial climate, which refers to norms, curricula, and interactions around race and diversity within the school setting, also impacts educational outcomes for students” (Trent, Dooley, Dougé).

Currently, there are less than a handful teachers of color at Lansing High School. In a school with over 30 teachers, the lack of racial diversity within the teaching staff is apparent. 

Students who face racial discrimination are left without an empathetic teacher to confide in. With the apparentness and gravity of racial targeting, students of color need resources and trusted support systems to rely on. 

The same journal explains the racial bias placed upon students of color by white teachers. 

Student-teacher racial mismatch can impact academic performance, with studies showing that African American children are more likely to receive a worse assessment of their behavior when they have a non-Hispanic white teacher than when they have an African American teacher” (Trent, Dooley, Dougé). 

While this is one example of racial bias, this is not to say that this specific instance occurs frequently, if at all, at Lansing High School. However, inherent and embedded racial bias is present in all people, whether they are a minority or not. Due to this, is it pertinent to the success of our students to understand the importance of having resources available for students of color, and to understand the overarching implications of the racism that is embedded in society and how it impacts our student’s academic lives. 

With this in mind, Mr. McKim shares progress at the district level in regards to acknowledgement, We’ve been stretched as an administrative staff and some of our teaching staff just in conversations we had at the district level. They brought in a specialist to really make us think and examine our preconceived notions or some of our bias, whether its known or unknown. We all have a bias and to be able to identify what that bias is, is the first step in my opinion in understanding and being more welcoming for others. We in the last couple of years have been working to look at those internally and specifically individually and then how we can help tear down some of our own barriers.”

Understanding the importance of acknowledging and deconstructing ingrained bias is crucial to the success of our student’s, both academically and socially. The journal notes an important factor in the combat against racism in the educational environment through, “To mediate the effects of institutional and personally mediated racism in the educational setting and prevent internalized racism, studies show that a positive, strong racial or ethnic identity… is protective against the negative effects of racial discrimination on academic outcomes”  (Trent, Dooley, Dougé). 

Students must feel supported and understood. The implications of racial targeting are far too serious to ignore. A strong support system for students is critical when handling racial discrimination and the mental health impacts, whether it be from friends, family, or other means. 

A strong internal support system is essential, however some students may need more. 

“We have a student support group that happens every Friday during CCR in Ms. Bolin’s classroom. Depending on my student and what they would share with me would determine how I would go about supporting them.” shares Mrs. Davis, Lansing High School’s social worker. 

Mrs. Davis stresses the importance of an individualized approach to handling the discrimination. Every situation is different and it is crucial in helping our students to recognize this. 

If lost on what to do when experiencing discrimination, Mrs. Davis suggests, if not immediately in danger, to fill out a bullying report form. This form is linked to on the student’s iPads. From this, administrators and the counseling office will be able to assist a student. 

Mrs. Davis and Mr. McKim are resources when facing discrimination. Reaching out to another trusted counselor or teacher is another option for students. If looking for additional resources, reach out to Mrs. Davis through the guidance form or email. 

“Hopefully, we’re creating an environment as administrators, as teachers, where students, no matter their color are comfortable with coming and saying ‘Hey, this is a concern.’” reflects Mr. McKim.