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The May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody, set off international protests, community conversations and, perhaps, individual examination of conscience about racial justice in America. We asked members of the DePauw community: Will you share your reflections on George Floyd’s death, the aftermath or any aspect of racial justice?

Maryclare Flores ’14 is a fifth-grade inclusion teacher in the Boston Public Schools.

Maryclare Flores '14 There is no such thing as being “neutral” in education. When we are engaging in learning with young people, we are either reinforcing stereotypes and biases and maintaining the current systems that produce them, or we are empowering students to think critically, ask questions and confidently express themselves. Can’t you be somewhere in between? Absolutely not.

Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

Too often we hear denials of responsibility in times of injustice. By teaching a curriculum that erases history and paints colonizers as explorers, for example, we are contributing to, at worst, hate and, at best, ignorance. We cannot act like racism has not permeated every aspect of schooling from inequitable funding, aggressive policing in schools and inaccurate portrayals or deficits in the curriculum. We must teach our students to always ask critical questions such as “Who is telling the story?” and “What perspectives are missing and why?” Rather than becoming complicit in maintaining white supremacy, choose to read stories about the solidarity at the 504 Sit-in for disability rights, the horror of Japanese-American internment camps, the systematic kidnapping and abuse of Indigenous peoples by the child welfare system, the prosperity of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and the empowering leadership of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. In the classroom, we notice the curriculum depicting certain people as victims while erasing the very existence of others. How does this affect student perceptions of these groups today?

Some think that being a teacher means “playing both sides” of history and, while it is important to show opposition or hate as a point of reference, educators should not uphold xenophobic, sexist or racist ideas as if they are valid arguments. This is not a philosophical debate, but rather life or death for our students. 

It is my responsibility to be supportive of the identities and lived experiences of my students and to provide the skills and opportunities for their development. I know that I can’t be neutral in situations of oppression. As a DePauw grad, student or staff member, I hope that you can’t be either.

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