Around 200 Seacoast-area residents met Wednesday night to talk about their community’s relationship to race and stereotypes.
The forum was part of the district’s response to a video that surfaced last month of Dover High School students singing racist lyrics to the tune of Jingle Bells as part of a class assignment.
The teacher who gave that assignment, John Carver, remains on paid leave as the district investigates.
Attendees at Wednesday’s event included students, parents, teachers and school administrators, police officers and other locals. A few dozen identified as people of color.
They sat in small circles of folding chairs in the high school cafeteria, talking through how parenting, educational systems and the places they've lived have shaped their views on race and identity.
They mulled over community-wide issues, like, “Who creates stereotypes and why?” and personal questions, like, “When did you first realize you were considered by others to have a particular racial identity?” and “When was the first time you intervened in an act of racism?”
(Click here to read the full discussion guide from Wednesday's forum.)
Jacqueline Gadsden is black and lives in Portsmouth, where she says a passing driver recently made a shooting gesture at her while she was out walking. She says it’s taken her a long time to feel safe again.
“It’s not a good feeling,” she says. “I just don’t understand why we don’t take time to get to know each other. Why is that so difficult? … So I’m glad we’re here and starting the conversation, and I think we need to continue to do more of it.”
At the forum, Gadsden sat next to her stepdaughter, Meaghan Dunn. Dunn teaches English for speakers of other languages, or ESOL, at Dover High. She’s also the mother to two biracial children.
“We’re white – most teachers are white women,” Dunn said. “We really need to learn how what we do in that classroom really affects all those kids, you know?”
After an hour of discussion, attendees said they felt ready to listen to concerns of students and minorities in their city, and they wanted a forum to carry that forward.
The people of color at the forum, in particular, said they were glad the white residents in their groups were open to concepts like white privilege – and they hoped those residents would continue to grow and spread their understanding, even when it was hard.
School district officials say over the next year, they hope to organize similar events, as well as student and parent groups to facilitate more focus on diversity.
Dottie Morris is a diversity administrator at Keene State College who sits on Gov. Chris Sununu’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. She helped facilitate the Dover forum.
“I’ve lived in New England for 20 years and I have to say, this is the most diverse room that I’ve been in,” she said after the event. “And I really appreciated the honesty that people demonstrated as they were talking.”
Morris says she hopes attendees will share what they heard at the forum with those who weren’t there.
District officials meet next week to discuss next steps.