Student Racial Justice Task Force prioritizes youth voices

Aanika Sawhney

On Oct. 20, 2021, San Andreas Principal David Luongo and San Andreas English teacher Cathy Flores facilitated the first meeting of their newly established Student Racial Justice Task Force (SRJTF). The organization aims to highlight student voices across the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD). Students throughout the district submitted their final applications for the SRJTF on Oct. 1.

Before the student-focused initiative arose, in the fall of 2020, TUHSD had already implemented its original Racial Justice Task Force. Following the ongoing spotlight on systemic racial inequalities occurring nationwide, local teachers, parents, and community members collaborated in order to ignite positive change. However, as the community Racial Justice Task Force progressed, it became apparent to members of the committee that there was a lack of student input from the different TUHSD campuses. 

In order to strengthen and prioritize student opinions, Luongo and Flores came together to facilitate a student-based group. Luongo emphasized how encouraging vulnerability from student experiences would cultivate a safe environment for meaningful discussions around race.

Continuing collaborations on the newly formed SRJTF, Flores and Luongo also work together at San Andreas campus and the District Equity Team.

“A Student Racial Justice Task Force that lives on indefinitely is what we are trying to establish. Learning from the students in our work as we build [the SRJTF] is an opportunity to figure out where we focus. [The SRJTF] is about the relationships and [creating] a trusted space that is action-oriented,” Luongo said.

For accessibility and safety, student voices across the TUHSD will continue to meet virtually over Zoom. Conversations to identify common issues surrounding inclusion, equity and diversity will work to initiate unified changes. As a Latina educator, Flores wants to embrace and welcome all races and cultures to participate. She plans to follow the student initiative within the SRJTF and support its goals district-wide.

 “We have student groups on each campus that are doing things individually. We know there are some that might overlap on a committee here, or might overlap on a committee there, and we want to formalize those connections and build those bridges across student campuses,” Flores said.

Redwood junior Sienna Garsten is a member of SRJTF, and hopes to diversify her perspectives through listening to her peers of color. Garsten is part of both the general district-wide Racial Justice Task Force and the Student Led Anti-Racism Movement (SLAM) course at Redwood. After the first meeting on Oct. 20, Garsten emphasized their enthusiasm for taking future action.

“As the meetings progress, we will all learn from each other. It’s important [to have] students learning from other students and the staff learning from students,” Garsten said. “Everyone [at the meeting] there wants change to happen … and are adamant about getting the work done instead of just talking about it.”

 She elaborates that the SRJTF will be a platform that can connect student voices directly to the TUHSD administration. Garsten feels the development of the SRJTF and the youth input within it will promote the spread of collective change throughout the district campuses.

Building off of the SRJTF, Garsten plans to pursue other similar activism initiatives in her future career.

 Acknowledging Tam District’s white-dominant student body, Luongo further explained the role of comprehensive student representation in the SRJTF. 

“It’s important not only that we support and allow our students of color [and] families of color to thrive within our educational system, [but also to acknowledge] that it’s our responsibility as an educational system to create white allies for the students that we teach, educate and put out into the world as the next generation of leaders and influencers,” Luongo said. 

The next SRJTF meeting will commence on Nov. 10. Together as a committee led by student voices, they plan to expand the conversation of racial justice to spark change throughout the district.