The good news is that Mississippi recently made national headlines. The bad news is that it’s once again for all the wrong reasons. As many of you have heard by now, the Nettleton School District made national news for its racial criteria for student government offices at the junior high school. Among other offices, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade class president were limited to white students. Meanwhile, offices such as 8th grade class vice president and 6th grade class reporter were off limits to students that were not black. Although the policy has been in place for decades, it only recently received national attention when a bi-racial student was unable to run for a position because she did not meet skin color qualifications. Since the news story broke, the school board voted to remove the policy.
At best, this is one of the most absurd plans to create diversity that I have ever seen. At worst, this is one of the most absurd plans that I have ever seen. The fact that the policy was in place for so long is incredibly disheartening. And honestly, many of us know that Nettleton is by no means the only place in the Magnolia State where such archaic policies are still in place.
What I find most troubling about Nettleton’s student government policy is that it resembles something that was hastily put in place to avoid having a constructive dialogue about racial diversity. Having been both a student and a teacher in Mississippi public schools, I have seen how easily students of different races can work, play, and learn together when given the chance to do so. What often happens, unfortunately, is that adults get in the way, passing on their old-school ideas to future generations. Rather than throwing together quick fixes, school leaders and staff must teach students about the importance of a student body that celebrates diversity and teamwork. Most importantly, these adults must also model these values through the way they interact with their colleagues. This is one of those lessons that students must see and hear. I hope the school boards in Nettleton and other parts of the state move in this direction as they work to toss out relics of the past.