Residents discuss racial injustice in Evanston schools at community talk back


Olivia Mofus/The Daily Northwestern

Gilo Kwesi Logan, a diversity and leadership consultant and educator at Northeastern Illinois University, guided discussion about the survey results.

Olivia Mofus, Reporter

Local nonprofit STEM School Evanston hosted a community talk back at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Wednesday to discuss the findings of a research study funded by Northwestern regarding racial injustice in Evanston’s schools.

Gilo Kwesi Logan, a diversity and leadership consultant and educator at Northeastern Illinois University, facilitated a conversation between Evanston residents — some of whom were surveyed as part of the study — to highlight the importance of amplifying Black voices in creating a more equitable environment within local schools.

Lead researcher and African American studies Prof. kihana miraya ross and her team surveyed 317 Black Evanston residents to understand how they’ve experienced Evanston’s education system ever since the Foster School’s closing.

The Foster School was the last public neighborhood school in Evanston’s predominantly Black 5th Ward, and it closed as a neighborhood school over 50 years ago. Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Board of Education voted in 2022 to build a new neighborhood school in the 5th Ward, which could open in as early as the 2025-26 school year.

At the Wednesday talk back, participants discussed takeaways from the study, like a desire for more Black representation in school curriculum and faculty, and more Black staff to support mental health. Survey respondents also expressed the need for a curriculum that meaningfully includes Black history and culture throughout the year. The survey asked participants to vote on their preferred curriculum focus, with 79% of respondents listing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math as a top choice and 53% listing African-Centered Curriculum as a top choice.

A majority of respondents also did not say they believed Evanston teachers are invested in the success of their Black students. When asked whether teachers wanted Black students to succeed, 37% of respondents agreed for the elementary level, 34% agreed for the middle school level, and 43% agreed for the high school level.

“Even if they are included and the services are equitable, it does not mean that they feel like they belong in the school,” Logan said.

The survey also showed concern about racial disparities in discipline, with about half of respondents agreeing with the statement, “Students are disciplined differently based on their race.”

73% of respondents also wanted the new 5th Ward school to comprise multiple buildings, such as Fleetwood-Jourdain and nonprofit family development organization Family Focus, instead of a single building.

Throughout the night, conversation participants shared their thoughts on the survey results. The importance and impact of Black representation in schools was a focal point of the evening, as well as the capability of all educators, no matter their race, in making students feel included.

Chaga Walton, a 9th Ward resident, said he attended the event to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s educational system. He was particularly interested in the creation of the new 5th Ward school, criticizing the pace of the school’s development.

“I know it’s slow, and sometimes change is slow,” Walton said. “But this is really slow.”

ross said the next step after the study is to share the results with local school administrators to determine if and how some of the concerns can be addressed within the districts.

In 2023, she said taking action should be achievable.

“The primary next steps are that we are sharing this data,” ross said. “What we’re trying to do is say, ‘This is what folks said, so how can we start to think about implementing some of those things?’”

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