We Tried to Address Racism in Our School District. Then Came the Backlash.

Picture of Vivek Yarlagedda

Vivek Yarlagedda

Picture of Vivek Yarlagedda

Southlake, Texas is the embodiment of the stereotypical “American Dream.” From the outside looking in, our north Texas suburb is a mecca—the epitome of a community everyone wants to be a part of. But amid the finely-pruned lawns, the multi-million dollar mansions and top-ranked schools, lies a sinister culture of hate. Under the veil of perfection is a culture that silences students of color, repeatedly prioritizes political views over the safety of students, and protects perpetrators rather than the victims. 

The respectable facade of the city and its schools, Carroll ISD, was shattered in 2018, when an enraging video emerged, making national news. The video featured a group of white girls, seemingly intoxicated, chanting the N-word. In another incident, racists vandalized a plaque in the city’s town square dedicated to the memory of Frank Edgar Cornish IV, a Dallas Cowboys player and city resident. Southlake was suddenly in the limelight. 

But while the events garnered headlines, there were no repercussions. Students began pressuring the school district to do something. The result? In 2019, Carroll ISD created the District Diversity Council, a group of parents, students, and teachers all aimed to solve this issue of rampant bigotry and racism. Out of this Council was born the Cultural Competency Action Plan or CCAP, which called for simple interventions such as inclusive training for teachers and amendments to the student code of conduct. 

And yet this seemingly straightforward plan sparked outrage among members of Southlake’s white, conservative majority. They formed a new organization, Southlake Families, as well as a PAC, intent on rolling back whatever progress we’d managed to make.

Flash forward to August of 2020 and partisan tensions were flaring, intensified by the pandemic. The racist incidents that had spurred students to organize had continued. The Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition or SARC, a group of former and current students working for systemic change in Southlake, had collected more than 300 testimonies of racist incidents in the district, gathering over 2000 signatures for a list of proposed reforms. But despite our numbers, efforts to pass the CCAP failed in spectacular fashion. 

Parents were now clashing at every school board meeting, fighting over everything from mask mandates and the existence of racism. Students were caught in the middle of a battle, not over our safety but the political views of our parents. Our hopes of passing CCAP were officially dashed last spring, with the election of a slate of school board and city council members, all highly conservative, who ran in opposition to the plan.

For me, the mission of improving the culture of Carroll ISD is deeply personal. I started school in this district when I was in third grade. While I didn’t know the word “bigotry,” I could see that my experience was different from other students. In middle school and now in high school, every day I could tell you about some racist incident that happened. Today, when I walk through the halls or take a seat on a school bus, I can hear the slurs cutting through the daily buzz of conversation. Each day that this casual practice of profanity and discrimination is allowed to continue is another step away from equality in this community.

Still, I’m not giving up and neither are the other members of SARC. We’re working hard to try to get candidates elected to the school board who we believe will initiate the changes this community so desperately needs. We’re also getting the word out about our fight, interacting with the press locally and nationally, including aiding in projects like NBC’s new podcast “Southlake.” Through thick and thin, SARC will continue our unyielding fight for equity. Our goals may not be fulfilled tomorrow, or the day after, or next week, but the day they do finally come to fruition will be a day in which this community changes for the better.

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