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CHS Coalition Elevates Voices of Students of Color

By Grace Morse, UNC Communications Intern:

The Black and Brown Student Coalition at Carrboro High School (CHS) has been a catalyst for social change in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area since the summer of 2020. As a student-founded and student-led organization, the BBSC is dedicated to creating space in the community for honest conversations about student experiences of racial inequity, as well as the challenges of being high school students during a pandemic.

Although the BBSC was founded at CHS, their influential work has inspired students and faculty throughout the district to collaborate with them as they seek to address some of the consequences of systemic racism and a decades-long achievement gap.

CHS Principal Beverly Rudolph said, “As a principal, hearing their voices at our meetings has not only been one of the highlights of my career but more importantly, informs my decisions about how CHS needs to operate, to change, and respond. These students are amazing advocates, students, and wonderful human beings who fill me with optimism for our future--CHS's and the world!” 

CHS School Social Worker, April Crider, said, “They have brought students' voices to the teachers, admin and students in a way that has never been done before. Their determination and self advocacy are shaking up the status quo and making it more ‘normal’ for students of color to call out injustice and it is having an influence on other students of color.”

One of the ways the BBSC demonstrates their dedication for uplifting student voices is their podcast series, which is available on SoundCloud. In their podcast, students can share their experiences and speak honestly and directly about their needs, challenges and aspirations. Students who participate in the podcast also have the option of anonymity, which is another demonstration of how the coalition cultivates a community where student perspectives are prioritized and protected. 

When senior CHS students and BBSC co-founders Phoenix Garayua-Tudryn and Julian Taylor were interviewed by the UNC Daily Tar Heel in March of this year, they discussed some of the topics their podcast covers, including student reflections on the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism existing within and beyond the school setting, both of which have had significant impact on students across the country. In the article, Taylor said, “I think it’s important for anyone in the community to listen to these podcasts and know what the youth in their community think about these issues, especially the Black youth. I also think that teachers from anywhere can listen to this podcast and if it applies to them, it’ll help them reflect on their role and supporting their Black students.”

Garayua-Tudryn described the podcast as a “platform where students of color have a chance to speak their truth”. Though this podcast and other BBSC projects are primarily student-led, their work has had a significant impact on faculty and administration. 

CHS school counselor, Matt Harkey, reflected on how the BBCS has inspired essential changes in the school’s curriculum and programming. “It's encouraging to see impassioned students not only empowered, but, in so many ways, empowering themselves, in such a grassroots way,” Harkey said. “Just one example of the students' work has been their instrumental role in developing and putting into practice some of our deliberate programming about racial equity this year, and I sincerely hope that more and more students get actively involved in the group, and that its footprint, traction, and impact in our community continues to grow.”

CHS Social Studies Teacher, Matt Cone, said, “The work of the BBSC has clearly impacted the faculty at Carrboro High. We have listened to the podcasts at faculty meetings, and this work has inspired us to engage in discussions about how we can do a better job of serving Black and Brown students. In addition to this, I am encouraged to see that the podcasts have provoked other students (including those who are not in the BBSC) to start asking critical questions about our school, our district, and our society. I am teaching about race and racism in a much more explicit manner than was true before this year. In part, I have drawn strength from knowing that there is a clear appetite for this work among our students and the BBSC deserves huge praise for demonstrating that this appetite exists.”

CHS Equity and Excellence Coordinator and Social Studies Teacher, Jamie Fernandez-Schendt, also highlighted how impressed he has been by the coalition’s work, saying the BBSC inspires faculty and staff as they “continue to incorporate student voices in the things that we do”. 

Math Teacher Myles Aitken said of the BBSC’s influence on expanding educational resources to more students, “Their efforts are part of the larger effort to expand access to higher level courses to students of color. Their input is useful and valued because, as an educator, I appreciate hearing anything I can do differently to make ensure I/we are not just benefiting one portion of our student population.” 

High School Equity Specialist, Tiffany Boston, who worked with the BBSC last summer, said, “The Black and Brown Student Coalition is an asset to Carrboro High and CHCCS because of their advocacy and collective student voices for change. It has been inspiring to watch this group grow into an organization of action-oriented students. They talk about the changes that need to be made, but more importantly, they make moves towards more equitable outcomes for students of color!”

Ella Terry is a senior classmate of Garayua-Tudryn and Taylor and a writer for the CHS newspaper, JagWire. “Being able to hear from students of color at CHS, especially directly from the BBSC's podcast, has been super informative and helpful,” she said. “I have been able to consider perspectives outside of my own, and it has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as a student. As a white student, the Coalition has helped me be more conscious about racial inequities within our school and the school system at large. I think that the work they do is incredibly important and I hope their voices continue to be heard by the school.”

The role of student leaders has shifted in many ways due to COVID 19, which has pushed student-led clubs to re-imagine how they will continue their work while being physically distanced. For the BBSC, the transition to virtual education did not discourage their work at all; in fact, Taylor and Garayua-Tudryn noted that virtual meetings allowed them to further their collaborations while also being conscientious of their members’ personal lives. Garayua-Tudryn said, “Many people in our group also work. The virtual space allows for quick meetings and makes it easy to collaborate with different groups of people.” 

As the school year comes to a close, Garayua-Tudryn and Taylor are looking forward to the work of the BBSC continuing after they graduate and hand off the reins to others at CHS. “We are both seniors, so we have gone through the process of selecting a new leader for next year,” Taylor said. “Regarding the future, a lot of students have collaborated with us and students at other schools have also started their own groups as well.” 

The visibility and positive acclaim generated by the Coalition’s activism and advocacy has resulted in coverage by multiple media outlets. Garayua-Tudryn and Taylor also co-authored “Racial Justice Demands More than a Lawn Sign,” an opinion piece published in the national magazine, EdWeek on April 21.

When asked  what advice they would give to fellow student advocates, they both agreed that it is essential for student leaders not to be afraid to start independently. “We started independently; we didn't really ask for permission. Asking for assistance has been good, though. Having relationships with teachers has been helpful,” Taylor said.“It's about utilizing relationships to add to these spaces. It's important to use the knowledge of people around you.”