SOAR and Leadership hold 2019 Breakthrough Day

By Sam Glocker and Saranyu Nel

Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) and the Associated Student Body (ASB) held Breakthrough Day, a series of seminars and events aimed to cultivate school-wide discussion about racism and local racial issues that took place during an extended tutorial period on Wednesday, May 22.

Each grade took part in a different activity. Freshmen spent their final advisory meeting participating in an added short seminar led by Link Leaders who had been trained by SOAR that morning.

Sophomores were broken up into five groups, watched parts of the film I’m Not Racist… Am I?, and discussed a variety of topics in response to the film, such as the definition of racism, and debated a statement from the film that “all white people are racist.”

Academic workshop teacher and BSU (Black Student Union) advisor Angela Hopper, and SOAR advisor and social studies teacher Dr. Claire Ernst wrote a grant to receive funding from the PTSA to showcase the film. “There are a lot of requirements,” Ernst said. “The facilitators [teachers and students] went through a six-hour training session to be able to present the film.” Because only 10 facilitators were allowed to be trained at a time, the sophomore groups were larger than the other classes.

The junior class participated in a pop culture and racism workshop organized by SOAR students in collaboration with Leadership. Junior class officers were trained to facilitate discussions. According to SOAR member and senior JayJuan Radford, students of color in the junior class did not have to participate in any of the events. However, they could attend a summit where they received a workshop for students of color only. According to a Tam News survey regarding Breakthrough Day with 157 respondents, about 26.8 percent of students said they didn’t have any students of color in their Breakthrough Day workshop.

Breakthrough Day was optional for seniors because SOAR did not have enough time and resources to prepare events for them, according to Ernst and Radford. However, if they chose, they could go to a freshman, sophomore, or junior presentation.

“In an ideal world we would’ve had something for them to do but we just didn’t have the resources,” Ernst said.

Opinions on Breakthrough Day differed from student to student. “The [statement] ‘All white people are racist’ means that all white people have those known stereotypes that’s against people of color. It’s a known fact. The people of color can’t be racist because it’s ‘Racism equals Prejudice plus Power,’’ Radford said.

Sophomore Marco Lizarraga said, “I don’t think it was good at teaching us about race, relations and what not. And I thought that a lot of the statements were kinda racist… They assumed that all white people have racial prejudice against people of color. And they based that solely on skin color; and that’s obviously a bit ironic because you’re discriminating someone by their race… They are poor white people, [they are] white people who actually aren’t in power.”  

According to the survey, about 50 percent of students agreed that the content presented on Breakthrough Day was comprehensive and relevant.

Radford said, “We are definitely going to have another Breakthrough day next year but also mini workshops that are leading up to it, like our Microaggression Workshop.”  

The original Breakthrough Day took place on February 27, 1967 as a walk-out led by students of color that eventually became a teach-in/discussion about race. The walk-out was prompted by several race riots that had taken place on the Tam campus. The 50th anniversary of this event was held on February 27, 2017; however, it wasn’t continued the following year.  

“The initial idea two years ago was to honor [the first Breakthrough Day] … but also restart the work,” Ernst said. Tam students assembled in Gus Gym to celebrate the original event and watched a presentation from a guest speaker/rapper and several student performances.

However, the event also received negative feedback from some students who believed the topics discussed were too vague, and that while presenters emphasized the importance of working together to create racial understanding, they never outlined a clear plan for doing so.

The 2017 Breakthrough Day was also organized by the administration. “Students didn’t want adults telling them what to do and think,” Ernst said. “So it was really important for SOAR that this Breakthrough Day was student-driven.”

“The intention of breakthrough day wasn’t to ‘solve’ racism.” SOAR member and freshman Ruby Rose Amezcua said, “It was to start the conversation around racism and to acknowledge the separation of experience that happens with students of color and white students at Tam.”

A Tam News survey of 157 students asked respondents to describe the extent of their agreement with each of five statements about Breakthrough Day.