A new leader for Surrey Schools’ Racial Equity department has been appointed and the process is underway to hire the remainder of the staff needed to support BIPOC students, teachers and staff at all schools in the district.
Racism and discrimination have been found to be issues throughout schools in Surrey and White Rock – a problem acknowledged by the district in spring 2021. To hear from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) students, staff and parents, the district organized “listening circles” where individuals shared their experiences of racism. These were gathered and released in a report in September 2022.
“This department came from them and their lived experiences, their struggles,” JB Mahli, director of instruction for Racial Equity at Surrey Schools, told Peace Arch News.
The Racial Equity department will serve as a place for students, teachers and other staff to turn to for support when experiencing racism and discrimination. Mahli and future staff members will work with schools to gather educational resources and other tools, train staff and “address issues of racism and appropriately navigate instances of prejudice and discrimination,” according to a release from the district.
Mahli has been an educator for 20 years, all of which he spent working in Surrey. The former teacher and principal was a Surrey student himself, from kindergarten to Grade 7 at Old Yale Road Elementary school.
Growing up as one of the few BIPOC individuals at his school, seeing more diversity in educational buildings in the district has been a great change.
“It’s been an area of passion for me as an educator, really just trying to connect and lift up, really all students, but students that come from racialized groups,” he said.
Even though an official department was not designated until now, Mahli and many of his colleagues have worked with racialized students to offer support when they would come to them about their experiences with discrimination.
His own experiences of racism as a Punjabi man have instilled in Mahli how powerful it can be for young people to have access to support from people who understand them. This is something he strived for while principal at North Surrey Secondary and as a soccer coach for youth.
“I think the society we live in now, students have such a tremendous platform, like social media. The kind of voice that didn’t really exist too long ago. I think it’s something we really, as a school district, need to become more attuned to. What our student voice is and how it resonates and what we need to do to move forward, especially with anti-racism and racial equity,” Mahli said.
While visiting schools in the district, which Mahli is in the process of doing, frequent questions he gets from students include: “How do we report issues of racism safely and anonymously? What are some consequences? What are some learning opportunities when there are racist comments or discrimination they see happening in schools? So they know that they’re supported and not just dismissed.”
Working in collaboration with other BIPOC students and staff is instrumental in creating a department that is representative of everyone in Surrey’s school community, he added.
The Racial Equity department is working on staffing the other roles, in collaboration with the Surrey Teachers Association, and is also developing a five-year action plan to strive towards anti-racism in schools, a motion announced by the Ministry of Education and Child Care at the end of last month.
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