Community Voice

by Max Ratza

Max is the recipient of our Youth Scholarship Essay Contest for the 7th and 8th grade. They are an 8th grade student at McClure Middle School in Seattle.

Their essay below is in response to the prompt created by the WAESN Youth Advisory Board (YAB): Tell us about a time you broke the rules and why. Max’s essay was selected by a vote of the WAESN YAB.

In the beginning of June 2022 I was to take part in a student production that was directed and written by my history teacher. This teacher had been causing unreasonable problems for the last 1-2 years, including outing children to their parents, guilt-tripping and swearing at students, etc, but every time something happened it was quickly blown off. My class had been seeking some way to advocate for ourselves, but this teacher was also somewhat manipulative, and while she was everyone’s enemy in some way, we all loved her. She finally pulled the last straw on June 7th, when she sent several students into tears and almost canceled the play that we had been working on for months.  

My class had been working on a play called Bound for Glory about homeless children’s experiences from the Great Depression since November of 2021. Finally, we were going to put it all together and then go home for the summer. The play was going fine, and until the last night, the only other thing that happened regarding my teacher making poor choices, was that she put all of the trans kids into the same dressing room without asking our opinion.

On the last night of rehearsal, I requested to change one word that directly misgendered me, and made me feel very uncomfortable. The word was girl, and I suggested it be changed to child. My teacher gave it the okay (in front of a witness) saying “Fine, but I am only doing this because it makes it more inclusive.” The word was changed while we rehearsed it for the last time. It went smoothly, however after we finished, my teacher was not happy with how it went. She said that she had not agreed to the change in script. This was first approached politely. I tried to explain how being referred to as a girl made me not just mentally, but physically uncomfortable, however she continued to gaslight me and the witness, arguing that she never agreed to anything. 

The other cast members were aware of what was happening very early on, and due to their past experiences with this teacher, many of us ended up in a circle backstage conspiring against her, talking about ways we could protest the next day (our first show). While a few others did not join us, there was one cast member who was unable to stand with me, in fear of what the teacher might do to her and her family. She was crying as she explained her reasoning. I was crying too, and as I looked around, everyone was in some way very hurt by this teacher’s actions, whether that came out in anger or tears. It wasn’t just about my teacher disrespecting my identity; this was just where it all piled up. Everyone was angry, and unlike before, there was no one to keep peace. 

I went to my friend’s home to spend the night. Her mother was working with our teacher backstage, and she helped us communicate what we needed to in a calmer way. After a few hours of trying to reason with her through emails, my teacher still wasn’t willing to change the script. The options given to me were give up my solo (where I got misgendered), or continue to be called girl. After a lot of thinking, I gave up my solo and the scene. It was a very difficult decision, but I still think it was the right one. The next day, my teacher wouldn’t even look in my direction. In protest of her trying to silence me and the trans community at my school, I wore a gray KN95 mask on stage for our first performance.

I feel that this experience has changed me a lot. I am now capable of standing up for myself and others without feeling scared or worried about the outcome. That teacher may never change, but that night gave my class a voice, and that night gave my community a voice, and I will never forget how powerful that was. 

Many other details were not included due to several individual’s privacy.

I Am Not a Rule Breaker

By Emily Vo

Emily is the recipient of our Youth Scholarship Essay Contest for the 9th and 10th grade. They are a sophomore at Cleveland STEM High School in Seattle.

Their essay below is in response to the prompt created by the WAESN Youth Advisory Board (YAB): Tell us about a time you broke the rules and why. Emily’s essay was selected by a vote of the WAESN YAB.

I am not a rule breaker. Goody two-shoes, teacher’s pet, coward. Whatever you could think of, it all described me. I never speak out of line, I complete everything on time, and I follow all directions given to me. I remember the last day of 5th grade. I sat there, asking my teacher who his favorite student was. Everyone knew who he would answer; me. It was obvious. I am not a rule breaker, but I have broken one of the biggest rules, one fed to me since I was born. I broke the rule of being a girl.

Being a girl is a series of unspoken guidelines. They guide you on how to act, how to talk, how to dress. Girls are pink. Girls are feminine. Girls wear dresses and skirts and paint their nails all day. This is not an essay on how I don’t follow those stereotypes, on how I am a girl who loves “boy things.” I follow those rules. My favorite color is pink, I only wear mini skirts, and one of my biggest hobbies is beauty. The issue is that I follow them when I’m not even a girl at all. I didn’t break the rules of being a girl, I broke the rule of being a girl.

The rules of being a girl have become more lenient. You can like blue, you can play sports, you can dress masculine. You can do all that and most wouldn’t bat an eye because you are still a girl. Even though you don’t fill out the checklist, you still follow the very title of it: Being a girl. I have flipped it. I have all the boxes checked out, and yet, I scribbled the title, and now nobody knows what label I belong in.

There is not just one singular time I have done this. I break the rule by existing. With every breath I take I have to justify my identity like a child caught doing something they were told not to. With every introduction, I am reminded that the rules say to use she/her and strictly she/her, not all the pronouns. That wasn’t allowed. With every skirt I put on, I am reminded that I will always look like a girl in a stranger’s mind. I will always be a girl to them. 

But with every breath, with every justification, I can see it making sense in their minds. I can see myself starting to open the blinds in their eyes to allow people a new light in. With every introduction, I can see others realize that you are allowed to be more than what you are given. I can see people relax, knowing they are not the only ones that have broken the rules. I have too. With every skirt I put on I can see how the line between femininity and being a girl gets blurred more and more until people wearing skirts aren’t just girls and girls aren’t just people who wear skirts. 

I am not a rule breaker. I continue following the directions that are given to me. I continue to stay in line. I continue being everything I was before. But I live with knowing that I am constantly fighting against a world divided into two as a third competitor that both are against. I live with knowing that there is a rule out there that I am chipping away at with a little hammer. And one day, someday, it will break.

Hidden Curriculum in Earth Science

This month’s blog post comes to us from teaching candidate, Renee Torrie. Renee learned about different types of hidden curriculum in their Master’s in Teaching program at the University of Washington and reflected on how previously lessons they’d written contained hidden curriculum.

Explicit curriculum is the message we intentionally want to convey to students in a lesson. Hidden curriculum is what the students are taught regardless of our intent. Renee reflects on their learning and applies it to a lesson on the Arkansas River. To quote Renee, “There is no such thing as objectivity,” not even in science.

I’m fascinated by the concept of hidden curriculum. This whole concept articulates something that I’ve long had a feeling for, but never words for: the fact that we are never hearing the whole story. The idea that every single lesson we learn or teach will have biases and hidden curriculum. There is no such thing as objectivity – the teacher or curriculum designer always leaves their bias in the curriculum they teach.

When I learned about control, implicit, and null curriculum, I felt excited and validated to take this concept forward and use it to critically think about lesson plans. I also felt frustrated as we dug into harmful social studies curriculum from various sources such as Teachers Pay Teachers. The hidden curriculum in those lessons was nasty – and I knew that before even seeing them – but confronting them gave me shivers and a renewed sense of purpose for the future. 

Types of Hidden Curriculum:

Control Curriculum – curriculum, policies, and practices intended to control the bodies and behaviors of students

Implicit Curriculum – Curriculum that implies a norm or makes uncritical assumptions

Null Curriculum – Curriculum that omits various groups and their stories

I have to be able to analyze my own hidden curriculum to gain self-awareness around the positions I bring to the classroom. I want this to become a practice that I start now and continue throughout the year and into the future. In this journal entry, I’m going to analyze the hidden curriculum of an old lesson plan I made years ago when I was an apprentice in a high school science classroom. I was just a baby teacher, beginning to learn how to teach. The lesson plan is attached to this document – it is Part 2 of a Lab about the Arkansas River; the high school I was teaching at was located at the headwaters of the Arkansas in Leadville, CO.

In this lab, Part 1 included heading to the river to measure physical properties, stand in the river, and build some relational context with the river. Part 2 which is attached here was a guided Google Maps journey down the entire river. 

Here’s what I found.

Explicit, non-hidden curriculum: 

  • Rivers are varied and their properties change as we move downstream.
  • Humans have interacted with and heavily influenced the course of the Arkansas River. 

Implicit Curriculum: Who is centered? The curriculum that is implicated in the lesson?

  • This Lab is a large, quick, sweeping overview of a complex thing 
  • It implies that geomorphology can stand alone and need not be interdisciplinary
  • It centers features such as meanders, evidence of changing river bed, and human damming or diversion 
  • Farming is centered in a number of questions such as #6 and 16 

Null: Which stories are left out of the lesson? 

  • Indigenous stories of past and present. There is so much potential here for understanding Indigenous relationships with the Arkansas River – I found out about the Upper Arkansas Indian Agency and the Lasley Vore Site after only brief research. The Arkansas River has supported life since time immemorial. 
  • Stories of the people living in relationship to the river. I could have included questioning into: How does the Arkansas support life around it? How have humans used the river in the past and present? What are the stories of the farmers along the river today? How accessible are the recreation sites along the river? 
  • There are more than human beings along the river. I wonder: How do more than humans interact with the Arkansas River? Is the river key to any migrations? What is being done to allow humans and more than humans to coexist in this river? What’s going on with the Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi? 

Control Curriculum: 

  • This is a very guided Lab. # 3 even says, “Name 3 places…” What are other ways students can exhibit their engagement with understanding the dynamic ways of the river? 

In reflection now, I see that my Lab enforced the colonial mindset of seeing a complicated ecosystem as quickly understandable, and information gathering about a natural phenomenon as extractive and surface level! I specifically regret leaving out Indigenous and more than human perspectives. I certainly upheld an anthropocentric view of nature through this Lab. This was a really valuable exercise for me to go though, and I am excited to do this more in the future. This Lab had a lot of untapped potential for desettling and interdisciplinary exploration.

I’m so grateful for how much I’ve grown and learned since I wrote it.



Lab Overview: You will measure river properties at the headwaters of the Arkansas River near HMI. Back in the classroom you will use Google Maps satellite view to trace and investigate the Arkansas from its headwaters to its mouth. Turn in Part 2 when finished. 

PART 2: Arkansas River Scavenger Hunt headwaters to mouth 

QUESTION: How does the character of the Arkansas change as we travel downstream? What natural and human-made features does the Arkansas create/pass on its passage to the Gulf of Mexico? 


Scavenger Hunt! Open up Google Maps in Satellite View. Locate HMI. Find the Arkansas River, and follow it all the way to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico using this guide. This will be graded for accurate completion and effort. Please read the whole assignment before starting your hunt. 


  • Switching into Map View briefly can help you identify towns and state lines.
  • Travel relatively zoomed in, but zoom out periodically to orient yourself.
  • Keep track of general trends and features as you go (see questions 1 – 3).
  • Questions 4 – 17 will guide you down the Arkansas. 

1. General observations as you go about the Arkansas’ progression across the US? 

2. Screenshot and submit (on post on Google Classroom) an example of: a. Meander scars around the Arkansas. 

b. Sandy point bars in the Arkansas. 

c. A major tributary emptying into the Arkansas. 

d. BONUS: An oxbow lake around the Arkansas. 

e. BONUS: A location where water from the Arkansas appears to be diverted away for agriculture/manufacturing/mining/other. 

3. Name 3 places the Arkansas is dammed (provide reservoir name or city/state):

4. How does the landscape change as the river flows into Canon City, CO? 

5. You just passed Pueblo, CO! Test how far you can zoom out and still see the Arkansas course. 

6. Zoom out at Garden City, KS. What do you notice about the surrounding area? What are these circles? 

7. You’re in Hutchinson, KS. According to Google Earth, the slope of the river here is -1.2% and river width is 108 feet. We are 582 miles downstream of Leadville, the Arkansas is 1469 miles total. Make an educated guess of the discharge here based on our Leadville site lab (in ft3/s). 

8. After the Kaw Lake Reservoir in Law City, OK, zoom out and observe the next couple of meanders. What kind of river have we here? 

9. Drop in on StreetView on a bridge in Tulsa, OK. Dang, that’s a _______________ river! 

10. Zoom out just south of Little Rock, AR. Can I get a MEANDERING RIVERS! Also, we are about to hit the border between AR and MI. What is about to Go Down For Real? 

11. ROUND OF APPLAUSE WHEN YOU FLOW INTO THE MISSISSIPPI!!!! Keep following the Mississippi. 

12. What state borders does the Mississippi River constitute? 

13. In the areas just north and south of Baton Rouge, what strictly borders the river?

14. You’re near Baton Rouge, LA. Test how far you can zoom out and still see the Mississippi’s course. 

15. You’re in New Orleans! What’s in the river? 

16. What struggles might you encounter as a farmer in Boothville, LA?

17. A few observations about the Mississippi River Delta? 

STARTED FROM LEADVILLE NOW WE HERE!! #1469mileslater #wetouchedthatwater 

CONCLUSION: Thinking about both the headwaters site you visited and your Google Maps journey, hypothesize the answer to: 

How do these river properties change as a river travels downstream? 

  • Discharge 
  • Depth 
  • Width 
  • Slope 
  • Velocity 
  • Sediment load volume 
  • Bed particle size 
  • Sinuosity

Jewishness and Ethnic Studies

This is the third and final installment of this series. It focuses on identity and positionality. Jeff and I invited Gabriella Sanchez-Stern to this conversation to bring in the voice and experience of a Jewish person of color, since that has been a topic we’ve discussed in the past two installments.

Gabriella: Hello, I’m Gabriella Sanchez-Stern. My pronouns are she/her/ella, and I identify as a mixed-race Latina. My ancestors are Ashkenazi Jewish and Mestizo from Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ve worked as a community organizer, for city government, and now work as an educator in Seattle Public Schools. I’m proud to say that my Jewish roots in the Seattle community span four generations, and my participation and leadership in various Jewish spaces have solidified my commitment to working collectively towards a more just world. 

Tracy: Hi, Gabriella, and thank you for joining us! At the end of our last installment, Jeff said, “Studying how Jews became white folks should be a prerequisite for white Jews to see how Jewish complicity with whiteness has been harmful.” Jewish complicity with Whiteness. Let’s unpack that. A great example of this is Seattle’s own, Ari Hoffman, pictured below. Ari is an ultra conservative radio shock jock, akin to the likes of Tucker Carlson, who claims he’s a person of color. Again, the only way I might know he’s Jewish is his last name, but then again, several friends of mine have traditionally Jewish last names and don’t identify as Jewish, so it’s always hard to know. If we just met, he’d have to tell me he’s Jewish for me to know that about him. In conversations of intersectionality, we always talk about “hidden intersections.”For example, I am non-binary, but I present as cisgender; therefor, my gender identity is a hidden intersection. Presenting as cisgender provides me privileges that other non-binary or trans folks might not receive. Jewishness, for the most part, is a hidden intersection. Ari clearly benefits from white privilege in most circumstances. When Ari claims to be a person of color, he is complicit with Whiteness, because he is refusing to acknowledge his white privilege.

But Ari goes further than that in his complicity. Ari launched a smear campaign against Latina congressional candidate, Stephanie Gallardo, during which he contacted her endorsers and reported Gallardo as an antisemite, because she supports Palestinian sovereignty. Author and former presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson, took the bait and pulled her endorsement of Gallardo’s campaign. Williamson, who claims to be a progressive, would most likely disagree with Hoffman’s politics, and if she were paying attention, she’d see this for what it is: a conservative, white man viciously attacking a woman of color running on a Democratic Socialist platform.

Recently, racist Seattle education blogger, Melissa Westbrook, joined forces with Ari to attack WAESN’s Youth Activist Academy by attempting to interfere with a partnership WAESN has with a local non-profit. Fortunately, our community partner saw through the racist attacks, but this is another example of Ari’s complicity in Whiteness and trying to undermine learning opportunities for students of color. Westbrook used a hit piece written about me to goad Hoffman into engaging in personal attacks on me, another person of color. There is a clear trend of Hoffman using his whiteness to attack femmes of color and hiding behind his Jewishness to do so. 

I’ve asked this before, but I think we need more direct answers if Jewish identity is to be discussed in Ethnic Studies. How do we hold white Jews who are complicit in Whiteness (racism) accountable when they use their Jewishness to try to cover their deeds?

Jeff: I completely agree with your analysis of Hoffman’s complicity with Whiteness. I have watched several Jewish friends come into the realization that they use Whiteness as a shield in a way that a person of color is denied, so I know that consciousness can and does change. His assertion that he is a person of color is just plain stupid, but it is part of his shtick. Remember, he is in the entertainment business, and he knows who his audience is. His target audience is white, conservative Christians where his brand of Zionism sells well. I have to admit that I have never listened to him and never will. I have absolutely no interest in what he has to say, because he has nothing to offer me. But I know the type very well.

Ben Shapiro was not the first right-wing Jew. These people use ideology instead of reason to reach their conclusions. Jewish text has been exposed to thousands of interpretations, and Jewish thought ranges across the political spectrum, so it is not difficult for conservatives to justify knee-jerk reactions. According to the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, “Ideology is a systematically distorted communication.” In the case of Hoffman and Shapiro, that distortion is profitable. It saddens me that Jews like these are willing to push a right-wing agenda that is so harmful.

As to your question about holding Jews like Hoffman accountable for their complicity in Whiteness, what we are doing in this series is a positive step. You and the entire Ethnic Studies community have the right to push back when attacked. It is also on me and Jews like me to respond and point out that pandering to white, conservative Christians is self-defeating, because that is where racism and antisemitism find fertile ground. 

“Replacement Theory” is a belief among many white supremacists. It asserts that non-white people and Jewish people will ultimately “replace the white race.” In the infamous and deadly Charlottesville white supremacist rally, a group of largely white, Christian men chanted, “You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.”

Tracy: I very much appreciate you providing so much historical context. We can talk about intersectionality all we want, but without a deep historical understanding, we just start talking past each other. Folks of color need to understand this history, and white Jews need to understand the history of Whiteness and how they continue to benefit from it.  One thing you shared with me in a previous conversation that stuck with me is the knee-jerk reactions we’re seeing from some white Jews to Ethnic Studies programs supporting Palestinian Studies and criticizing the State of Israel.

I understand the point you made about the rise of antisemitism since Trump. Again, I suggest it’s not a new normal for Jews only; communities of color, im/migrants, queer folks, trans folks, and Muslims are also feeling that. In fact, of all hate crimes reported to authorities in 2020 62% were race motivated and only 13% were motivated by religious bias (antisemitism is categorized as religious bias by the US Department of Justice). Racially motivated hate crimes increased in 2020 while religious hate crimes decreased. A difference that I see, however, is that the latter groups advocate open conflict, because we understand that conflict results in change. We also know that conflict gets our leaders killed and our people arrested, ostricized, beaten, murdered, etc.

DOJ data

Emily Alhadeff, in her piece about Ethnic Studies, specifically conjured up images of Jews being bloody in the streets as if, again, this is an experience only Jews have. These types of narratives feel, from my perspective at least, like Zionists want to silence folks of color to satisfy their own sense of safety at the expense of the safety of folks of color, including Palestinians.

In her blog post, Emily mentioned an organization called FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism). It’s led by an (arguably) diverse group of people, but there is a strong Zionist influence. They promote colorblindness as a solution to racism and appropriate Dr. King’s words, like many do. How is this both related to the Jewish ideal of universalism and a perpetuation of white supremacy? What do Jews need to understand better about the historical contexts of racism and anti-Blackness in the US?

Gabriella: Thank you for inviting me into this conversation. I have learned so much from both of you and am grateful to be included. 

When I think about Jewish complicity with Whiteness I think it is important that white, American Jews (of which I am partially included as I have benefited from the privilege of my white family) reflect on the ways that we have benefited from structural racism and perhaps were complicit in upholding racist institutions and laws in search of attaining the “American Dream.”For example, my own Jewish roots in Seattle trace back to the early 20th century community in the Central District. At the time, Jews (both Ashkanazi and Sephardic) lived alongside Black, Italian, and Irish Catholics. These communities were excluded from more affluent neighborhoods through the practices of redlining and racial restrictive covenants, which lasted until the late 1950s. But how many of us also participated in white flight and were able to buy homes in View Ridge, Wedgewood, and Laurelhurst a generation later? How many Jewish families living in the Southend have chosen to send their children across the city or to private school rather than to their neighborhood public school? While these may have seemed like individual choices at the time, we need to be able to reckon with how these choices on the individual level have come at a price on the community level. While these types of decisions are not exclusive to Jewish families, if Jews are to understand our complicity with Whiteness we must understand how we have participated in some of these broader trends throughout history. 

Jeff: The FAIR board of advisors is an impressive roster of public intellectuals and writers who’ve written some very in-depth and provocative works. I can see why Emily would refer to them as some sort of model of rationality; I’ve enjoyed reading many of them for deep insights into many issues, however I don’t always agree with their conclusions. It is true that there are a number of Zionists on the board. There is also an absence of Marxists. These are independent thinkers, but they seem united in opposition to CRT. None of them speak for the entirety of their representative communities, and other voices should be noted. Jews have nothing to fear from Critical Race Theory. 

I want to refer back to Hillel and Shammai. The advocates for color-blindness are like Shammai, what should be the norm is right for paradise, but now, Hillel would say, we have some work (study) to do. Which reminds me of one of my favorite passages of the Talmud:

Love work. Hate domination, and don’t get involved with the authorities.

Avot 1:10

Just because these authorities have a Ph.D. from Harvard doesn’t make their judgment any better than any person on the street.

Gabriella: I also wanted to share some thoughts regarding how Jews of color are received in Jewish spaces. First of all, who am I talking about when I say Jews of color? In general, the term “Jews of color”includes all Jews with ancestry in African, Asian, and Latin American countries. Jews of color may identify as Black, Asian, Latinx, American Indian, or multi-racial. In certain circumstances, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Jews of North African heritage may also identify as Jews of color. According to recent studies, approximately 11% of Jews in the United States identify as Jews of color. I identify as multi-racial as I have both European Ashkenazi heritage and Mexican mestizo heritage. 

Now, Jews of color are not a monolith, and our experiences are as nuanced as any other individual walking through this world, but some general rules apply. In particular, our sense of belonging is often influenced by colorism. By colorism I mean discrimination that is based on how dark a person’s skin color is, or how far outside of whiteness they are perceived to be. Some Jews of color have shared experiences of being questioned in Jewish spaces from ways that are other-izing (“Are you visiting?””Did you convert?””Do you need help finding…?”) to being mistaken for security guards or nannies. 

Depending on the time of year, my skin can either look like a light caramel or a dark olive, and in my experiences growing up in Jewish spaces, I was often perceived as Israeli, Middle Eastern, or Sephardic. Because of this, my sense of belonging was not directly challenged in ways that other Jews of color with African, Asian, or Indigenous heritage are. While this light-skinned privilege means that I am not prevented from participating in Jewish spaces, it often means that I have to check a large part of my identity (my rich Mexican heritage) at the door. For many Jews of color, the price of our acceptance in Jewish spaces comes with erasing a part of ourselves to fit into the European Ashkenazi norm.  

What I have shared is just based on my experiences and the experiences I have heard from some others and is just scratching the surface. Last year, one of the first comprehensive studies of the experiences of Jews of color was published by the Jews of Color Initiative with some interesting findings, as well as difficult truths that I encourage all to read (even just the summary!) when you can.

Jews of Color Initiative data

Tracy: Thank you, both, for teaching me. I have learned so much from both of you and commit to learning more about Jewish intersectional identities and how Ethnic Studies can help educate others. I was recently asked what I would want people to know about Ethnic Studies. My response was that the goal of Ethnic Studies is to eliminate all types of oppression, including racial and economic oppression, settler colonialism, and antisemitism. The human mind, heart, and spirit are capable of holding multiple truths, but only if we are able to have conversations like these, so thank you.

Jeff: One last thing. Thanks for inviting me into this conversation, I found it very useful for my own growing understanding. It is very consistent with Jewish tradition to dialogue and argue. It is one of our cultural particulars, embedded as it is in our “sacred texts”. It is my opinion that the Jewish Zionists who have attacked WAESN are supporting a right-wing agenda, are authoritarian, and are dead wrong. OSPI needs a much more well-rounded voice from the Jewish community in regards to their planning for state-wide Ethnic Studies.


What does it mean to be complicit in Whiteness?

What is the difference between hidden and visible intersections, and how do hidden intersections provide varying degrees of privilege that visible intersections don’t?

How does an individual’s various identities affect their experiences in different situations?

What is the political gain for conservatives and white supremacists when marginalized groups fight among each other?

Jewishness and Ethnic Studies

Part 2: Zionism and “The Jewish Question”

This blog post is a continuation of the dialogue between WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill, and Educator/Librarian, Jeff Treistman. The first installment tried to answer the question, “Are Jews white?” This installment explains Zionism and tries to answer the questions, “Are Jews indigenous to Israel?” and “What is ‘The Jewish Question’?”

We enter into this dialogue because some conservative, white Jews argue that the focus on indigeneity in ethnic studies is intentionally antisemitic and is used to consider Israel a settler-colonial state. Some Jews believe all Jews are indigenous to Israel and have a right to take the land back from Palestinians. While Jeff and I may not entirely agree on the term, “settler-colonial,” we do agree that the actions of the Israeli State are crimes against humanity.

Ultimately, the concepts of indigeneity and Zionism are being used to fuel the attacks on ethnic studies scholars of color and shut down ethnic studies across the country. The infringement on ethnic studies by conservative, white Jews insisting on addressing “The Jewish Question” in spaces that are meant to center people of color is also interrupting our movement.

What are Zionists and how are they influencing ethnic studies movements?

Tracy: Now may be a good time to introduce the difference between “Jewish” and “Zionist.” Much of the push-back against ethnic studies from Jewish people has come from some Jewish folks who may more accurately be described as Zionists. I read a tweet recently from a Zionist suggesting that ethnic studies’ focus on indigeneity and indigenous epistemologies is harmful to the State of Israel and is the basis for why we consider the modern State of Israel a settler-colonial state. From my understanding, Zionists believe all Jewish people are indigenous to Israel, but is that true? 

What are Zionists and is the modern State of Israel the indigenous homeland of all Jews across the globe?

Jeff: Personally, I’d prefer you to just call them Zionists. Again, the number of Christian Zionists far outnumbers the total number of Jews in the world but I don’t know in what way Christians may factor into that argument against Ethnic Studies. MLK considered himself a supporter of Israel and even a Zionist, so there are clearly nuances.

Indigeneity is yet another complex topic. I am Jewish but I don’t claim indigeneity to the land of Israel/Palestine. In my understanding indigeneity has to do with the formation of a people-hood. In that sense I have a better claim to indigeneity in Eastern Europe because that is where the people-hood of Ashkenazi formed. I could successfully apply for a Polish passport because I can prove my grandfather’s birth in Warsaw and locate the graves of my great grandparents who are both buried in Warsaw. The Palestinians are indigenous to Israel/Palestine because their people-hood formed there. I don’t think anyone can dispute that. But there is another legalistic category that needs to be highlighted, that of aboriginal rights. Aboriginal rights are granted to the first peoples of a land who have created cultural ties to a land that has been uninterrupted  at least since prehistoric times. In that sense Jews have the right of entry, sojourn and settlement in Israel/Palestine, especially in the Judean Hills where Jerusalem is located.

Current Israeli State and Palestinian territories

When it comes to the modern State of Israel, my focus goes to the concept of Statehood. Jewish anti Zionists in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century were opposed because they were opposed to Nationalism which was surging in Europe. Jewish Anarchists, of which there were hundreds of thousands, opposed the state, any state, outright. They saw the state as the dominant force of the oppression of all peoples. The State of Israel oppresses Palestinians and violates their indigenous rights and for that reason it is criminal. I don’t understand how Zionists can claim indigenous rights while disallowing the rights of Palestinians, it just isn’t logical. And aboriginal rights do not grant the right to statehood.

I don’t really buy the settler/colonial argument but I do buy the anti-imperialist argument. In my view the Global Imperialists weaponized the Jewish question and made Israel into a proxy state for the prosecution of the Cold War and its proximity to oil resources. This does not excuse individual Jews who embraced the power of the state for their own purposes. In my mind Netanyahu is a criminal and I hope he sees jail time but most people are just trying to survive and get by. That is why I blame the state and not the people.

Tracy: Thank you for clarifying that Zionism isn’t limited to Jewish folks. 

I think in these discussions of systemic power it is essential to differentiate between the system – in this case the State of Israel – and individuals. I’m not sure how you can distinguish between settler-colonialism and imperialism, though. Colonization is establishing control over land and its resources and people. It becomes settler-colonialism when the colonizers choose to live on the land they’ve colonized. Who are the “Global Imperialists”you mention that weaponized the Jewish question? If they aren’t the Jews themselves, are they the same Europeans who colonized the rest of the world? 

In our previous discussions, you mentioned the connection between the modern State of Israel and a European movement called Protestant Nationalism which aimed to expel Jews from Europe into Israel. This wouldn’t be the only example of Europeans being settler-colonists by proxy. After the successful revolution carried out by enslaved Africans in Haiti, British colonists brought Chinese folks into their colonies in the West Indies to,“provide a security,”against revolts. While the Chinese may not have been the colonizers, the West Indies were still settler-colonies. Couldn’t the same be said of the modern State of Israel?

This brings me to another question I kept asking Emily in her interview. She kept referring to the,“Jewish question,”as you did in your last response, and I kept asking her why it’s a,“Jewish question?”There are so many parallels white Jews and people of the global majority could be making instead of making it all about the,“Jewish question.”Why do some white Jews, in particular, insist that their experiences with oppression and genocide are somehow unique? There are far more examples of genocide among people of the global majority than white Jews. Each racial and ethnic group has stereotypes they face that can also be amplified by interrogating how they benefit from them. One notable example is the model minority myth about Asians. The myth that Asians excel at all things math and science related is harmful to both Asians and non-Asian people of color, and we have to explore and dissect it to understand how it perpetuates anti-Blackness no matter how much Asian people are discomforted by it.

Thank you to reader, Deepa, for reminding us of James Baldwins’ thoughts on Jewish anti-Blackness.

That was a lot, so let me repeat my questions: How might the modern State of Israel be a settler-colonial state even if Jews, themselves, aren’t the colonists (using the West Indies as an example)? If Jews want to be part of an ethnic studies curriculum, they can’t try to be excused from having their identity pulled apart and examined for how it is used to oppress others, so why do white Jews, specifically, continue to insist there is a “Jewish question,” that is somehow different, or outside of other questions about identity, power, and oppression?

“If it weren’t a question, this piece we are working on would not exist.”

Jeff Treistman

Jeff: Yeah, “Global Imperialist” is pretty vague. I apologize for reverting back to the 70’s rhetoric; this is a term I used to use with Black and White members of the Revolutionary Student Brigades when I was in college. It refers to US and British governmental and business interests. When the State of Israel was established it meant the beginning of the end for the libertarian socialists who settled in Israel/Palestine on communes that were committed to living side by side with the Palestinians and other ethnic groups who were already living there. These folks did not bring a lot of capital with them and were dedicated to hard work to make a living. It wasn’t easy but it was better than trying to survive the pogroms that raged in Eastern Europe in the last part of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Then Hitler happened and post-WWII sympathy allowed the creation of the State of Israel and the course was set for where we are today. The left in Israel lost favor and power over several decades as capital flowed into Israel. Other factors like the influx of Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) and later, in the 90s, with the influx of Jews from Russia and Ukraine, Israeli politics significantly changed. But there are still Israeli Anarchists today advocating for a “no state solution.”

If you read the linked article on Jewish aboriginal rights, it makes a compelling argument for the Jewish rights of entry, sojourn and settlement. Even though this argument is being used by Zionists, I find the preponderance of evidence makes an irrefutable case for the connection that almost all Jews have to the land of Israel/Palestine. Based on that I think the use of the word “colonist” is incorrect. European colonies were settled by people with no connection to the land at all. I won’t repeat all of the arguments in the article but I will point out that ancient biblical text and extra-biblical text, Greek and Roman history, archaeological findings, genetic sequencing, the continuous presence of Jews in the territory (mostly as third class citizens), and the 2000 years of Jewish diasporic yearning for a return, all play a part for me in feeling the connection. This is probably an area where we will have disagreements but there it is. We do agree that Israel is acting like an apartheid state today.

apartheid – any system or practice that separates and politically and economically oppresses people according to color, ethnicity, caste, etc.

In 1843 Bruno Bauer wrote The Jewish Question. The following year Karl Marx wrote a response, On the Jewish Question. This was the beginning of a wide ranging debate in 19th and 20th century European society that pertained to the appropriate status and treatment of Jews. It was also called the Jewish Problem which fed into the Final Solution of the Nazis. Earlier I referenced a book called The Finkler Question, whose title is a play on this. It is frequently used in-group in the Jewish community. If it weren’t a question, this piece we are working on would not exist.

Humanistic Jews do not use the word unique when talking about the “Jewish Question”, preferring to use the word “particular”. All peoples are unique and using it to exclusively talk about Jews is contrary to our concept of Humanism. There have been many genocides in world history but the one particular to Jews is called the Shoah or the Holocaust. There are many diasporic people in the world as a result of various horrible situations but the ones particular to Jews are the Babylonian exile in 600 BCE, the Roman dispersion of Jews after the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, and the Spanish Expulsion in 1492. Something else particular to Jews are the continuous persecutions over the last 2600 years.    

As for the white Jews who want to be part of the Ethnic Studies curriculum, I suggest that they start by welcoming Jews of Color (JOC) into the big tent of Judaism and learn about their struggles to be accepted as Jews by the Jewish mainstream. And I suggest that WAESN partner with JOC to illuminate the racism they experience in too many Jewish spaces. Studying How Jews became White Folks should be a prerequisite for white Jews to see how Jewish complicity with whiteness has been harmful. When I say this, I am expressing my solidarity with Jews, Jewish culture and Jewish history, warts and all, because many Jews have also been stalwart supporters of and activists in racial justice, social justice, labor rights, immigrant rights and the separation of church and state. 


How can we hold multiple truths about who has historical claims to the land of Israel/Palestine?

What are some examples of a government acting out of alignment with the values of its people?

How do we discuss the oppression various groups experience without minimizing each group’s particular experiences?

Why is it important to understand and critique positionality in ethnic studies discourse, especially in terms of identity?

Jewishness and Ethnic Studies

A conversation between WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill  and Educator/Librarian, Jeff Treistman

My former colleague and current friend and co-conspirator, Jeff Treistman, and I sat down to discuss the tension between ethnic studies and Jewishness. What we produced is a lengthy dialogue about some of the largest points of contention. This is the first installment of three. Each installment will end with some reflection questions for readers, especially educators.

This first installment centers around the identity of Jewish folks. Are Jews white?

Hello! I am Tracy Castro-Gill. My pronouns are they/them and I identify as Xicanx. I’m a mom, grandmother, and friend. I’m also a racial justice advocate, former middle school educator, and education scholar. I’m one of the co-founders of Washington Ethnic Studies Now and serve as the Executive Director.

Hi, I’m Jeff Treistman. My pronouns are he/him and I identify as a white Jew (or Ashkenazi). I live with my wife of 40 years, have an adult daughter and sustain many friendships. I’ve worked as a musician, a chef, a wine merchant, an educator and as a school librarian. I’m a long time member and in the leadership program with the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

Tracy: So, for some context, this blog post is being written as a conversation between myself and Jeff in response to some criticism I’ve received from some Jewish folks recently over my insistence that most Jews are white, my view of Israel as a settler-colonial state, and my support of Palestinian Studies in ethnic studies programs. I’ve also raised concern over the Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) actions in the development of the state’s ethnic studies framework that included granting white, Jewish organizations and individuals the authority to vet and veto the work of people of color.

As a non-Jewish person, I want to be sure I’m not missing anything, and that I’m listening to reasonable Jewish people with a deep understanding of Jewish history and contemporary concerns about the recent rise in antisemitism. I say, “reasonable,”because there is a trend of white Zionists shutting down and working against anti-racist scholars of color. Members of California’s Jewish legislative caucus penned a letter denouncing the work of ethnic studies scholars of color saying, “We cannot support a curriculum that erases the American Jewish experience, fails to discuss antisemitism, reinforces negative stereotypes about Jews, singles out Israel for criticism, and would institutionalize the teaching of antisemitic stereotypes in our public schools.”The thing is, ethnic studies, historically, has never been about Jewish Studies. The focus has always been on racially minoritized groups. Also historically, there are four races: European, Asian, American (including all of the Americas, not just the USA), and African. Oceanian was recently added as a fifth race. Ethnic studies has always been about Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Asian experiences. European Jews don’t fall into these categories. 

Emily Alhadeff, a Jewish blog author, asked to interview me about the work being done in Washington State on ethnic studies. I agreed, but recorded the interview because I was afraid she’d misrepresent my view – which she did. In her piece, she claims I bullied a Jewish member of the state workgroup on ethnic studies simply because she was white and Jewish. The fact is, the member in question, Linda Clifton, repeatedly admitted her ignorance of ethnic studies. Alhadeff says, “Clifton challenged the use of the term ‘Indigenous epistemologies,’”because Clifton admitted she doesn’t know what it means. Indigenous epistemologies are the foundation of all ethnic studies curriculum. Why was she on a committee to create a curriculum she knew nothing about? I was told it was to, “make sure we didn’t have another ‘California’.”

original recording of interview used in The Cholent by Emily Alhadeff

White Jewish people insisting on being included in a curriculum that has never been about them reeks of white privilege, and when I say that, Jewish folks come back with something along the lines of, “Well, Jewish identity is complicated.”Aren’t all identities? The fact that Linda Clifton and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle were given a kind of supervisory role over educators and scholars of color also smells bad. And still, as a person who considers themselves a critical learner, I want to learn more.

My first question to you, Jeff, is, “Are Jews white?”

Jeff: Yes, except for when they aren’t. If we are just talking about the United States, out of a population of approximately 6 million US Jews, 300,000 identify as Jews of Color. Most US Jews are Ashkenazic descendants of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. In Israel/Palestine Ashkenazi Jews make up about 45% of the Jewish population with Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews making up another 45%. Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) make up 3% and the last 7% are various mixes of the first three. (You can learn about differences and similarities here.)

Jews were accepted in the United States as white from the very beginning when the Constitution guaranteed the free exercise of religion and gave Jews rights they never had anywhere else before. Jews were full citizens, not ⅗ for Africans or barred outright like Asians. During the colonial period it was different. Jews were banned in most colonies except in the settlements of New York City, NY, Newport, RI, Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC and Philadelphia, PA. Even with legal acceptance Jews have always been “othered” and the privileges that come with whiteness were slow to materialize. Many non-WASP whites in the US see the post WWII period as when they “became” white, in other words, when they started to lose the stigmas that came with their ethnic backgrounds. In addition to Jews, Southern and Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners and even the Irish can trace a history of discrimination that their families experienced.

Tracy: I love that you brought African and Asian experiences into this conversation, and I will add that Indigenous people in the Americas were victims of genocide, excluded from human rights, and considered sub-human. Race and power, of course, are all relative. I also appreciate the article you shared with me by David Schraub, “White Jews: An intersectional approach.” I often tell people that ethnic studies doesn’t exclude Jewish identity, but takes an intersectional approach to it. I appreciate how Schraub complicates Whiteness in Jewish identity and asks, “What does Whiteness do to Jewishness?” As I read it, though, it felt like he was talking to white readers. I understand his point about how Whiteness amplifies stereotypes of Jewish people, especially stereotypes of power hoarding, but it would be interesting to understand how people of color see Jewishness. His analysis lacks a deeper discussion of the positionality of white Jews in relationship to folks of color. Do folks of color see white Jews as white and Jewish, or just white? ← Rhetorical question. I personally can’t discern white folks from white Jewish folks unless there’s an obviously Jewish name. For example, I did not know Alhadeff is a Jewish name. I guessed Treistman was a Jewish name when we met because of the ‘man’ suffix. I didn’t know Linda Clifton was Jewish until she told me.

Schraub suggests that one thing Whiteness does to Jewishness is amplify the stereotype that Jews have some kind of superhuman power over all things and all people. How, then, do we critique the privileges Whiteness confers on white people  – a central topic of ethnic studies,  including white Jews, without getting caught up in antisimetic tropes?

Most Jews take a yearly reckoning of their actions during the high holidays and should be encouraged to include the costs of Whiteness in their personal reckoning.

Jeff Treistman

Jeff: Very carefully. Antisemitism is a mine field. Not even Jews are immune to accusations of self-hatred and antisemitism from other Jews. Witness the mainstream Jewish organizations that give Bernie Sanders grief over his assertion that Palestinians have rights. I’m sure I will get grief from some quarter just for discussing this openly with you. There is a brutal dialectic that exists between Jewishness and antisemitism. In his Man Booker award winning novel The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson posits the idea that Jews and antisemitism are co-dependent. Many Jews like to say that God, Torah, and Israel unite all Jews but the reality is that those three topics spur endless debates and rare unity among Jews. But antisemitism does bring unity to Jews.

Anyone critiquing Jews for any reason at all should demonstrate an awareness and understanding of Jewish history. That is why I think you are taking a much needed step. Most people are ignorant of Jewish history because it is not taught in public schools and that is why Jewish Studies is such an important topic on the university level. Many Jews try to give their children some Jewish education both in religious and secular schools and don’t rely on public school for that part of their education. Even so, many Jews have only limited knowledge of their own cultural history.

Most American Jews are unaffiliated and this is something that undermines much of the propaganda that comes from the Jewish mainstream. According to the most recent Pew research reports on religion in America, the trend toward secularism is only growing more significant, this in spite of the rise of Evangelical Christianity. Jews constitute the most secular religious group in America. Younger Jews of today are challenging many of the assumptions about Israel/Palestine and other topics that have been pumped out by the older, established Jewish organizations while at the same time forming new groups.

I have been teaching in a non-theistic, secular Jewish Sunday school for ten years, so I have experience with Jewish education. I do teach about antisemitism and the Holocaust but that is no where near all there is to learn about in Jewish Studies. I think we can start finding some answers to your questions within Jewish Studies.
First off, Jews are no strangers to Socialism, Communism and Anarchism. Those of us, like myself, who identify with leftist ideologies, criticize the conservative elements that come along with white privilege. So I think a class analysis is very appropriate. Secondly, most Jews subscribe to the value of Tikkun Olam, which is the idea that the world is not perfect, in many places it is broken and needs repair. If you are not using your privilege to try to accomplish repair, you are not fulfilling your obligations of Jewishness, so there is a moral core that can be activated. Thirdly, most Jews take a yearly reckoning of their actions during the high holidays and should be encouraged to include the costs of Whiteness in their personal reckoning. I would also suggest that the Talmudic debate between Hillel and Shammai is relevant because even though the more liberal Hillel is acknowledged as having the correct opinion, Shammai was not erased. It is said that Hillel was correct in the world we live in but Shammai would be correct in Paradise.


What does it mean to be white in the U.S. and how may centering Jewishness in ethnic studies detract from the stories of people and communities of color that created ethnic studies?

How would de-centering Whiteness in public education allow for a richer understanding of Jewishness?

In what ways can people be simultaneously the target of oppression and the perpetrator of oppression?

What is the importance of considering intersectionality, a tenet of Critical Race Theory, in discussions of identity?

Petition: Support RRHS BSU Students and Educators

What follows is a letter drafted by the River Ridge High School (RRHS) BSU outlining their current experiences and demands. It was sent to Superintendent Reykdal who has yet to respond as of March 3, 2022, the date of this publication.

You can support the BSU by signing this petition, which will send a letter in support of their below demands to Superintendent Reykdal and the administrators of NTPS and RRHS, and by donating to their legal fund.

To Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, and members of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction,

We are the Black Student Union (BSU) of North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS). Our BSU advocates for the collective interest and rights of Black students, and by extension the rights of all students participating in the institution of public education. We are writing to you not only on behalf of our BSU members, but also in an effort to protect the rights of students who have been targets of sexual violence in our schools, including female-identifying, transgender, and non-binary students. We are uniting in a collective effort to ensure that students’ rights are protected, regardless of sex, gender presentation, or sexuality, and that all students have access to a safe and inclusive school environment free from sexual violence, racism, harassment, intimidation, and bullying. 

Students from a variety of backgrounds and identities reported multiple experiences of discrimination and injustice when filing incidents of racism and sexual harassment to administrators and/or district level officials. This is not acceptable. We must act in our own best interests to secure our rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public schools because of race, color, or national origin. Public schools include elementary schools, secondary schools, public colleges, and universities. We must act to hold institutions of public education accountable to the Title IX Constitutional Amendment of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. 

Our previous and ongoing attempts to work “within the system” have resulted in re-traumatization, gaslighting, and repeated instances of our concerns being dismissed and/or minimized further compounding our trauma. Despite attempts to follow outlined procedures in our student handbook and make reports to the powers that be, we have not been protected from racial abuse, sexual trauma, and retaliation inflicted on us by peers and even staff. Administrators and district officials have proven unable to provide us with a safe learning environment and, conversely, have created a hostile environment for students who were involved in our strike against racism and rape culture in schools.  

Because of these shortcomings, it is now our responsibility to cultivate change and secure justice for ourselves.

We spent over 5 months from September 2021 into March 2022 meeting with supportive teachers, in small groups, and eventually formed alliances with larger groups of students to analyze our circumstances and how the systems in our schools have failed to protect us. We met with caregivers/parents in December of 2021 to raise awareness of our lived experiences as students in NTPS.  As a result of these meetings, we created a list of short-term goals and long-term goals that would serve to improve the educational experiences of BIPOC and other marginalized students. We began to implement changes on our own but were denied the opportunity to even have a student advocate in our meetings with administrators.

Our circumstances progressively became worse with mounting incidents of racism and sexual violence and as we continued to advocate for ourselves. It was necessary to take more drastic measures. We held a second meeting with students experiencing sexual violence on campus. On Saturday, January 29th, BSU leaders and our advisors, student representatives for those experiencing sexual violence, caregivers/parents of the Black Student Union from the 3 high schools in NTPS, and concerned community leaders gathered for a presentation by the BSU Coalition.  All high school level administrators were invited but only Angela Lee-Pope, the Vice Principal from River Ridge, attended with the District’s Director of Equity, Dr. Antonio Sandifer.  At this meeting, we established a foundational understanding of the harm that we have had to endure from administrators and district officials who have treated students from BIPOC and marginalized communities inequitably.  We announced our strike and that the timeline would be for as long as is necessary to get our demand met from school leadership.  We received overwhelming caregiver and community support. 

At this point, however, we did not know that the demands we created were already written into the district’s governance policies on Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying in some form years before.  These were not detailed on page 17 of the HIB section of the Student’s Rights and Responsibilities Handbook.  We only discovered this after we met with the Nisqually Tribal Council who recommended creating a fact sheet in which NTPS policies and state RCWs were reviewed for violations.  Upon researching these policies during the last full week of February, we were astonished to find out that not only were our demands already in district policies, but that district officials, administrators, and staff operated while uninformed of these policies and that they repeatedly acted in violation to those policies over the course of this school year and countless others serving to harm generations of students.

We are acting as a collective body to ensure that our most vulnerable populations and future generations are safe from harm at schools by holding NTPS accountable. The dehumanization of students will continue to occur, as well as systemic racism and rape culture, if we do not unite for change. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, we believe, is ultimately responsible for ensuring the rights of faculty members as well as students in reporting government abuse.  We are aware that OSPI and NTPS have been in contact regarding these matters.  You must act to support students and staff as we continue to fight for our rights. We want our schools and this district to do better so that we don’t have to endure suffering just to receive an education. We ask that you:  

bear witness to our stories; 

use your resources and connections to raise awareness about the abuses and exploitation of BIPOC labor while on strike and in negotiation meetings in which we are doing the work to ensure the district’s compliance with Title VI and Title IX statutes without proper compensation, credits towards graduation, or even positive acknowledgment of the work we are doing while having to be burdened with making up any in-class work missed;

protect us from further harm and retaliation by asserting pressure on agencies/those with the power and authority to terminating the employment and revoking the certification of district level officials as well as administrators at NTPS that are criminally negligent in being uninformed of their own policies and violating policies to the detriment of students;

protect us from further harm and retaliation by asserting pressure on agencies/those with the power and authority to remove from office the school board members who have demonstrated complicity over multiple years in criminal negligence in being uninformed of their own district policies and not holding the superintendent, her cabinet, other district officials, and school administrators accountable; and

donate to our legal defense fund as we pursue a class-action and individual lawsuits   

We have been intimidated, coerced, and forced to abide by demands dictated to us by administrators against our own self-interest. There is an imbalance of power corrupting our public schools particularly when it comes to reporting traumatic experiences that needs to be amended. When we are forced to be silent and to bear the burden of being harmed through race-based and gender-based violence, we internalize feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. This negatively impacts our attendance, motivation, academic outcomes, mental health, and more. When students come to school, they need to feel safe and secure enough to communicate with our mandated reporters about the traumatic experiences students go through. So, consider this trauma as causing students in the strike to be “further impacted by significant disruption to their education,” a circumstance that allows for credits to be waived for graduating seniors, in addition to the strain put on us from the COVID pandemic with buses that don’t show up, substitutes in multiple classes, and our own absences due to quarantine and/or mental health circumstances. 

The student strike (long-term, disruption of schooling) was not a one-day walk out. It was 8 days of protesting where we were repeatedly dehumanized by district officials.  The following is a short and incomplete list of what we experienced.  We were:  

refused the use of restrooms;

left unsheltered in rain and below 40 degree temperatures for hours even when shelter was requested due to inclement weather;

threatened with suspension and the ability to walk during graduation;

unprotected from a hostile parent that made threats as well as racist and lewd comments to strike participants while the SRO and district officials failed to intervene (videos available on social media);

continuously mischaracterized as an unruly, aggressive, disruptive “mob” without apologies or corrections to misleading emails sent to the public;

obstructed in our progress with negotiated demands as district officials continuously failed to communicate with counselors and ALL other staff the terms of negotiations causing confusion and frustration among staff and students;  

treated with malicious retaliation before and during the strike;

treated with discrimination even after returning to classes;

told our signs that we put up during Black Lives Matter in Schools Week/Black History Month that quoted Dr. King and represented the legacy of resistance against Black-oppression were unauthorized and were ordered by the Vice Principal to be taken down.  The custodian who took down the signs also crumpled up the signs, tore the only sign that said Black Lives Matter, and threw them in the trash.  We were not allowed to see footage in its entirety from surveillance cameras;

denied our 1st amendment rights when NTPS officials manipulated the public into believing that our strike particularly impacted students served in the Life Skills program at River Ridge.  The district has yet to retract any of their deleterious emails regarding the students on strike nor have they released the email from all 3 Life Skills teachers defending the BSU students on strike and decrying the use of students in the Life Skills program as an excuse to violate the rights of the student on strike;

subjected to negotiations with district officials that were combative in nature and demoralizing to students.  Abusive administrators continually denied, questioned, minimized, and, in one unfortunate event, the RRHS Vice Principal/Interim Principal Lee-Pope laughed at a student’s claims causing that student severe emotional distress; and

endangered by school and district officials who failed to communicate to the public and to the school community that a threat was made to protestors by a peer that filmed the strike and imported the footage into a first person shooter video encouraging other students to “get a couple m82s and shoot up the protesters like that one part in cod.” The following day at the strike, students saw and reported the same threatening video to adult supporters, unaware that administrators knew of and “addressed” the incident the afternoon before. Adults at the strike took the necessary safety precautions to protect students while a report was being made to authorities. Ultimately, due to lack of communication by administrators and district officials, chaos and harm towards students ensued. Two students had anxiety attacks and were treated by medical staff.  Others were crying and afraid.  The entire group of students and caregivers were traumatized.  The evidence collected from the lockdown supports the above claims.

Here is a breakdown of the District’s response to strike demands with edits, updates, and descriptions in red of other treatment we’ve had to endure:   

We demanded that our schools agree to the following Short-Term Achievable Goals that can begin to build trust and healing before we return to schooling. However, with the recent discovery that our Short-Term Achievable Goals are already written into district policies in some form, our demands evolved.  The district and their representatives have been criminally negligent in abiding by their own governance policies and Washington State RCWs and have been harming students for generations.  Currently, we demand:   

Students participating in the strike must receive accommodations and/or modifications to make-up work missed in their classes With the understanding now that the district was in direct violation of their own policies, all participants in the student strike should receive full credit for engaging in their civic duty to exercise their 1st amendment rights in protest of violations by district officials, school administrators, and staff that disproportionately harmed students from BIPOC and other marginalized communities.  These students should not only receive credit for civics and other social studies courses, they should be awarded credits towards graduation for other social studies credits, leadership, CTE, art, ELA, etc. ;

students and staff participating in the strike will not be retaliated against;  

any teacher, staff, and/or student peer that is proven to have acted in retaliation towards students on strike will be disciplined, provided with equity training, and/or suspended or terminated from the district; 

an agreement to negotiation/planning with BSU students and students who have experienced sexual trauma at schools and stakeholders to plan stop “business as usual” schooling for students involved in the strike for the duration of the year  1-2 weeks during the month of February to address major student concerns at our schools and to plan school-wide/district-wide trainings. Students are not just learning Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetics. There is a 4th R and a 5th R that are silent. NTPS needs to make a commitment to end Racism and Rape culture in schooling. We demand that a commitment is made to dedicate space, money, time, and effort so that all students, staff, and stakeholders can address these community issues so that we can collaborate on community solutions. Outside professional organizations specializing in these issues should be hired with the consent of students. Stakeholders engaging in the process should be compensated (school credit, volunteer hours, a stipend, etc.) if this is not part of curriculum and made to be extracurricular;

students involved in the strike will be provided with the theater commons area or the auxiliary gym at RRHS for the remainder of the school year as their safe place;

they will also be reporting to this safe place for every Advisory/Study Hall between 2nd and 3rd period to meet, build community, disseminate information, organize, plan, receive mental health support, etc.;

students from North Thurston High School and Timberline High School who were involved in their school walk-out and have allied with RRHS BSU will also receive the same opportunities and be transported/allowed to be transported to RRHS  to collaborate on community solutions; and

policies are updated in the students’ rights and responsibilities handbook to reflect district policies.

Long-term Goals we are still pursuing:

A full investigation conducted by the Washington State Department of Justice, The Office of Civil Rights, and/or The Human Rights Commission, of the current and historical issues and management of incidents of racism and sexual harassment at NTPS with the understanding that the failures of this district are failures that are state-wide; and

accountability measures for racial equity, LGBTQIA+, and social justice training for all staff in every NTPS Position. 

Please contact us with your questions, comments, and concerns.   

In Solidarity,     

NTPS BSU members/students impacted by race-based trauma and sexual violence