“There is a serious lack of diverse and anti-oppressive education, and even worse our educational system continues to inflict racial trauma by using racist language. Racial epithets or slurs cannot serve educational purposes,” the online petition states.
Milly Yusuf is in Grade 12 at Bethlehem Catholic High School. She moved to Saskatoon from Kenya when she was three years old and has had both negative and positive experiences growing up in the city.
One incident that stands out for the 17-year-old was when a classmate called her racial slurs online and in-person. She went to the principal hoping it would be resolved.
“They basically dismissed it and a larger conversation wasn’t had, so the problem continued,” Yusuf recalled.
“I felt disrespected by the school system in that moment.”
Last year, Yusuf was studying To Kill A Mockingbird in class. She said it was read out loud, so students were saying racial slurs within the novel out loud.
“Black students actually started skipping class because they felt uncomfortable and disrespected by their teachers,” she said.
“Issues like these that make students feel alienated and feel like they’re not valued and it really hinders students ability to reach their full potential.”
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Education said, “the Government of Saskatchewan believes that students deserve to feel safe at school and that we all have a role in working to eliminate racism.”
“Saskatchewan’s curricula includes various opportunities for teachers to address current topics such as diversity, racism and power and authority,” the statement continued.
However, Yusuf believes there’s more that can be done to ensure Saskatchewan schools are inclusive — discouraging the use of literature with racial slurs, for example.
“A lot of teachers and principals don’t have the knowledge and the resources to adequately deal with discrimination,” Yusuf said.
She also suggests using literature by Black authors without racial slurs that can still depict discrimination. She thinks books like The Hate You Give and Policing Black Lives would work well in the classroom.
She hopes representation can be included in subjects outside of English, using the example of learning about Black scientists in science class.
While she has faced her share of discrimination, she has also had positive experiences with teachers.
“I had this cosmetology class in high school and this teacher went out of her way to purchase mannequins with similar hair to mine to promote diversity and inclusiveness,” Yusuf remembered.
“From that experience, I felt validated and that was the first time I felt seen.”
As the BLM YXE online petition gains more signatures, the organization plans to start a conversation with the Ministry of Education.
“Our next step is contacting the Ministry of Education with our findings, suggestions and petition. We also hope to provide education for parents, schools and educators on how to support and affirm BIPOC students,” Delilah Kamuhanda with BLM YXE said in an emailed statement.