Local Lasallian Catholic school teachers explore racism at conference

| October 26, 2017 | 5 Comments

High school senior class members of 2018 have only known a United States steeped in racial conflict since their freshman year, said Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University professor, speaking to teachers from local Lasallian Catholic schools Oct. 23.

Weeks before the students entered high school in 2014, Michael Brown was killed in a police-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Then came a Baltimore police-involved death of Freddie Grey in 2015, followed by the 2016 death of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights. This year’s national news headlines have involved bomb threats to Jewish institutions and the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist march.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole lived experience,” said Frank Miley, president of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. “The country is so polarized.”

Miley encouraged fellow leaders of the five other Lasallian-sponsored Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to invite Chatelain to speak to their teachers about addressing the heightened racial tensions in the culture. He previously heard Chatelain, a history and African-American studies professor, speak at another Lasallian educator’s conference.

“What we see in a lot of Catholic schools is sometimes the problematic behavior of our students towards each other along racial and ethnic lines,” Chatelain told The Catholic Spirit.

Around 400 teachers attended the conference at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park. Three of the Lasallian schools — Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and Totino-Grace High School in Fridley — have at least 20 percent non-Caucasian students in their student bodies. DeLaSalle has the highest, with 40 percent students of color.

“There are always dialogues going on,” said Peg Hodapp, a campus minister and theology teacher at DeLaSalle. “I think we’ve made an effort and continue to make an effort to find ways to support all students, in particular the students of color, so that they feel the respect that they deserve and feel the support that they need.”

Though the topic has been wrestled with at DeLaSalle, Hodapp said that she found the workshop worth her time. Besides Chatelain’s presentations, the teachers also had small group discussions about applying what they heard.

“The underlying premise is that our kids understand and know that we love them, and that we provide a place, a space that is safe and that can we acknowledge and validate that things are still happening in their world other than the math concepts that we’re teaching them,” said Deb Fagan, a math teacher at Totino-Grace. “Being aware of how they may be feeling, what they’re experiencing is really critical, especially in our classes where it’s not as natural, maybe, for us to just launch into a discussion.”

None of the schools have been immune to the current racial tensions, including Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria. Holy Family world languages teacher Jacob Dueck sees the challenges at a less diverse school.

“The less [diverse student body] you have, sometimes the more it’s kind of a tricky situation,” Dueck said. “Maybe a bigger issue would be just for those individuals [of different races]. They might have a hard time with not having as much of a community to plug into.”

Regardless of the setting, “Catholic schools are uniquely poised to be leaders in helping form young people who can really address, again, the pressing needs of our times,”  Chatelain told The Catholic Spirit.

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