By Bailey Proctor
Bailey offered the following keynote speech at a Student Summit as a graduating senior from Elmsford High School. She was an active Student Equity Leader, advocate, and activist in high school and is currently a first year student at Villanova University. Read more about her below.
“I think it is safe to say that this year has been anything but ordinary. Living in a pandemic where millions of lives were lost, entire systems were uprooted, new policies were presented and yet we are still adapting to the perpetually changing tides of life. Covid 19 essentially exposed every flaw in the healthcare system, school policies, codes of conduct; every crack in the foundation of this country was exposed and the world was forced to pay attention for once.
There were no distractions.
There were no outside factors to sugar coat what life was like.
There was nothing to explain away. We all saw the world for what it was. We all saw our country for what it truly was. And in my opinion that was the best thing that could have happened to us.
Being a student activist during such an uneasy time, I found myself overwhelmed with the amount of issues there were. Not only worldwide like seeing the healthcare system failing to service impoverished communities or witnessing the lynching of multiple Black Americans over the course of months; but I also witnessed a multitude of problems within my school community. Issues pertaining to harmful racist policies, dress codes that police the bodies of our Black and Brown girls and suspension policies that contribute to the continuation of the school to prison pipeline were on full display for our school communities to see.
Let me be very clear when I say that there is a crisis happening right now and it is attacking our students of Color who already subjected to discrimination due to the long-ignored systematic racism, misogyny, and ignorance built into the framework of this country. We can no longer let institutionalized racism fester and grow within the education system but to make significant change, we must abolish the policy of suspension.
As it stands, the American education system facilitates as a pipeline to the prison industrial complex because of zero-tolerance policies enforced by schools, such as suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and other punitive reprimands, that disproportionately affect already marginalized students, specifically students of Color.
We need to focus our energy and resources into teaching, and nurturing our students. By adopting effective alternatives such as those that reflect the societal call to “defund the police'' and adopting restorative justice practices, we will be able to establish an anti racist environment.
This means reallocating resources given to the school police or school resource officers to other social services such as career-readiness outlets like internships, alumni networks, and creative programs that engage and enrich students outside of the classroom. Schools must acknowledge and consider individual student circumstances and how these circumstances possibly contribute to their alleged infraction; emphasizing empathy and humanity over punitive punishment.
By addressing the fact that not all students walk the same path in life, we can form our schools accordingly so that we can benefit all of our students. We cannot stand by and let this system continue to abuse our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students any longer.
We need our teachers to stand up for us by practicing restorative justice protocols. Stop only calling home when there is a behavior issue; talk to your students after an incident, find out why that happened, and discuss better ways to handle tough, emotionally charged conflicts instead of yelling and throwing students out of class. Stop hyperfixation and tone policing our young Black students. Be cognitive of the microaggressions you could be using when interacting with your students of color. Treat students with the same respect that you demand we give you. The system is broken, yes. But let’s start dismantling these constructs right now.
This entire experience has shown us that traditional school practices are not only erroneous but they are very oppressive and do not lead towards liberation, but in fact are a tool to marginalize and oppress students of Color.
As restrictions and mandates are relaxed with Covid-19, we want school leaders and district leaders to know we won’t accept that as a signal to return back to what was.
By being in this space today, you have all made a commitment to not only listen to the voices of student activists, you have made a commitment to disrupt and dismantle systems that harm our BIPOC students within your own spheres of influence. It is your responsibility to uphold the change our students are advocating for because the future depends on it.
We have been through so much. We have endured so much. Our lives have been forever changed. None of those experiences should be forgotten. None of what we went through should just be pushed to the side. We want school leaders to know that we are not who we were pre Covid and with that, that we WILL NOT go back to normal.
Those of you who work in school districts need to remember that your purpose is to serve your students and that means creating an antiracist environment for all of your BIPOC students. We need to dismantle the systems within our own school which racism manifests. As a coalition of students, educators, and community members, it’s our obligation to commit ourselves to help students drive out of the blind spot and halt the pipeline in order to end zero-tolerance policies, and instead foster positive school climates for all.
That means being intentional when facilitating conversations about racial injustice within your spheres of influence.
That means remembering Black Lives Matter does not only pertain to conversations of police brutality but to the quality of life of all BIPOC students.
That means unlearning how to be a normal educator and relearning how to become an antiracist educator whose critical consciousness spans beyond the classroom and into the issues of the real world.
Policy change is not only needed but necessary for the progression of our schools, community and country. So when we leave this space remember to proceed with an antiracist mindset prepared to disrupt and dismantle systemic inequities wherever you find them.
Make it clear that we will not go back to normal and that our voices will lead to history defining change.
That means, that racist, outdated curriculum, we aren’t here for it anymore
You teachers that spout racial microaggressions and push them off as jokes, we’re not here for that any more
Codes of conduct that over police our actions, we’re not here for that anymore
Suspension policies that uphold the school to prison pipeline by policing black and latinx students
Dress codes that shame our bodies and restrict our individuality, we are NOT here for that anymore
The refusal to acknowledge trans students, queer students for who we are, we are NOT here for that anymore
Over testing, over assessing is pointless and unnecessary and we are not here for that anymore.
We will NOT go back to normal and our voices will lead to radical, history defining change.”
Bailey Proctor is a graduate of Alexander Hamilton High School in Elmsford, New York where she was recognized for her brilliance, both academically and athletically. Bailey graduated 6th in her class as a member of National Honor Society, Student Government, and R.E.A.C.H. club (Raiders for Education, Action and Change at Hamilton), a club which she officially founded her Junior year of High School. This organization seeks to immediately address issues of bias and racism in the school community all while teaching students to use their voices to continue to develop a learning environment that is inclusive and belonging. Bailey is now a freshman finishing her first semester at Villanova University. She is a member of the Honors college and plans to double major in Sociology and Political Science with a concentration in International Relations. She then plans to complete a Peace and Justice minor, exclusive to Villanova University. Bailey has been a part of several social justice organizations including the NYCLU as a student ambassador, panelist for the ACLU, and is currently continuing her social justice work in college as a member of VillanovaACT and the Catholic Relief Services chapter at Villanova University. In addition to social justice, she is a part of the acapella group Minor Problem in which she composes and performs with other members of the group. Bailey has also been recently cast in the Villanova Student Musical Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde as a featured dancer. Although she is studying at Villanova, she is supported by her church family of Greater Centennial AME Zion Church in Mt. Vernon, NY and by hosts of others who believe in her promise and her brilliance.