April 8, 2016
Open Letter from MEChA at the University of Wyoming to Johnson County School District #1, the Wyoming State Board of Education and the University of Wyoming College of Education:
The so called “Equality State” has proven itself to be xenophobic and racist time and time again. In a conservative state like Wyoming, there is a general discourse that dismisses issues of race at both an individual and institutional level. When people of color address these issues, they are brushed off as isolated incidents. Many will recall that Wyoming was thrust into the national spotlight in the late 1990s following the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, thereby exposing the state to the broader climate and lived experiences of marginalized peoples. More than 20 years later, similar demonstrations of hatred and violence continue to target communities of color and other marginalized people not only in Wyoming, but across the country and world.
The image we share with you speaks volumes to the social injustices of our educational system in the state of Wyoming and across our nation. We have provided you all with a press release from John Egan, a substitute teacher in the Johnson County School District (Buffalo, WY), who witnessed a student project promoting racial violence and aggression. Also, there is an image which recreates the student project in question. Please be aware that the image of the student project itself might cause strong personal, and emotional reactions. There is no doubt that the product of this project symbolizes racial violence and hate, thus perpetuating racist and xenophobic ideologies. As is stated in the Wyoming Constitution in Article 1 section 3 and Article 7 section 10, no human being, regardless of race, class, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, residential status, or national origin, should ever have violence or hate targeted toward their own identity and background.
The lack of institutional acknowledgement and inaction within local and state governments in Wyoming, as well as at the University of Wyoming, denies marginalized people their experiences while simultaneously perpetuating ideals of prejudice, discrimination, and hate.
It is imperative that we raise awareness of these issues that often are shoved under the rug. It is time for the University of Wyoming to lead the state of Wyoming in the education of our youth with dedicated and required courses for the social relevancy and competency of all marginalized groups and to work in conjunction with K-12 schools to create atmospheres that value multiculturalism and complex historical, political, social, and cultural understandings of the world around us.
In this light, we fully support the currently petition being led by the United Multicultural Council at the University of Wyoming for individual colleges at the university to require their students to take both Diversity and Global Awareness courses as undergraduate degree requirements. As students, we demand a more well-rounded education for our youth in Wyoming both in our K-12 institutions, as well as at the University of Wyoming.
Furthermore, the College of Education at the university should provide more resources and educational courses toward preparing future educators on cultural competency in order to create an inclusive classroom environment for all students, regardless of background. Seeing as the majority of students in Wyoming will continue their educational careers at the university, it is the responsibility of UW to appropriately educate them on all matters, of race, diversity, inclusion, and social awareness. Given the current national rhetoric on xenophobia and racism, it is crucial that we incorporate curricula that provide our children with critical analytical skills that will lessen discrimination, prejudice and xenophobia.
We demand that the state of Wyoming and respective school districts refer back to and reinforce their anti-discrimination policies. We demand that Wyoming schools provide professional development that is culturally inclusive of communities of color and increases cultural awareness. We demand that the Johnson County School District appoint a neutral body to address larger concerns of discrimination as they arise. We demand that Wyoming schools offer a culturally relevant curriculum and learning opportunities where students can increase their cultural sensitivity in line with stated objectives in social studies curriculum and elsewhere. We demand that the University of Wyoming College of Education, as a primary producer of future educators in the state of Wyoming, continue to work with current and future teachers and school districts to improve methods of multicultural education.
As MEChA, we find the current set of events in Johnson County School District appalling and outrageous. We demand transparency from the Johnson County School Board and the Wyoming State School Board of Education surrounding this event and hope to create bridges via meaningful dialogue with all parties involved. We recognize the importance of community building as a necessary pathway to prepare the youth of our state. We will continue to spread awareness of this situation and will plan future actions as an organization if necessary.
We are here in hopes of building a nation-wide push with other universities, educational institutions and associations, and socially-oriented organizations to address the need for a diverse, inclusive curriculum for prospective students who are living in fragmented societies.
Thank you for your time,
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán
University of Wyoming