Question and answer panel talks race and education in Madison

'We have to do a much better job': Lt. governor, community continue conversation about race

MADISON, Wis. - Since the controversy at Whitehorse Middle School, race equity in schools has been on the forefront of the community's mind.

On Tuesday, a group of people – including a pediatrician, a lawyer, activists and educators – held a question and answer panel, hoping to start a conversation about it.

The panel was moderated by Brandi Grayson, the executive director for Urban Triage. Audience members could ask questions and talk with the other panelists, including Matthew Braunginn, a senior associate with the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Angie Hicks, the principal at James C. Wright Middle School; Jasmine Zapata, a pediatrician; M. Adams, the co-executive director of Freedom Inc.; Michael Jones, a special education teacher at Blackhawk Middle School; Brian Holmquist, the coordinator of intensive support and critical responses for Madison Metropolitan School District; and Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, a civil rights attorney.

Grayson started the event saying the goal of the discussion was to center people most disenfranchised. Throughout the evening, she broke down how policies are written in a way that leaves room for interpretation, and as a result, racism.

Adams, a black woman, expanded on this as it applies to how people read others.

“What's considered normative behavior, as Brandi said, meaning what's considered normal or healthy conflict resolution,” Adams said. “If I'm upset, and I express my opinion about being upset by being verbal, by being responsive in the moment, by being direct in my communication, it's often seen by white mainstream culture as abnormal and aggressive.”

Other panelists explained how these stereotypes can then affect how people react to each other, especially in a school setting.

“If this were a white boy with autism, you would be responding differently with his behavior,” Hicks said. “I'm not afraid to say that because it's true, and if I can get people to think about that, and pause around that, then that's where the change begins to start to happen.” 

Grayson said there were three others invited to the event who did not show up. Those included Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jen Cheatham; Tray Turner, a student resource officer for the district and the Madison Police Department; and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

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