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University High School students introduce anti-racism course

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — University High School students are not shying away from tough topics.

Instead, they are addressing it head-on with a new anti-racism course.

Participants say ignoring issues surrounding racism only makes the problem bigger.

Every January, students here participate in what’s called J-term, where they are immersed in specialized hands-on courses. Organizers say in many cases, it can be a tough topic to swallow, but it starts with taking smaller steps that eventually blossom into something much bigger.

At University High School, education doesn’t operate in a one size fits all box. Instead, students are given quite a bit of agency over what and how they learn. It’s part of a plan to prepare them for college and life.

“They’ve given me an opportunity as a student to say that I have ideas, and I matter,” said student Samriddhi Patakar.

January term is a three-week period where students immerse themselves daily in specific areas. It may be long-standing course like the literature of the American landscape or learning the proper steps and notes in the theater and musical course. But for the first time, there’s the anti-racism course.

“Taking the first steps to being anti-racist doesn’t have to be scary,” said the anti-racism course instructor Franklin Oliver. “And it doesn’t have to be hard. And those baby steps almost always convince folks that they want to take bigger steps.”

Pantakar is president of the Anti-racism book club. An idea that birthed the course. After speaking with other book club members, she introduced the idea of making it a J-term course.

“But we thought it was time to take action. So, we decided that we wanted to create a class,” Pantakar said.

There are about 350 students in the school and one out of every three ethnically identify as not white. The course is optional, but the instructor says a key part of focusing on systems that perpetuate negative outcomes for people based on race, religion gender and more.

“The anti-racism course really speaks to our core value of diversity. Which was actually the first core value defined in our founding. It allows students to take topics like racism and the way It works in systems in society and engage with them in ways that are relevant to their lives,” said Alicia LaMagdeleine, head of school.

Pantakar says this is a vital course and a message for anyone who may not see its value.

“I would say they have the privilege to think it’s unnecessary that it’s within their own privilege that they perpetuate the ignorance that they don’t need it. But it is vitally important to society,” she said.