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Have AAHS Racial Problems Been Solved?

Have AAHS Racial Problems Been Solved? image
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Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
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Nearlyllmonths have passed since the racial unrest began which beset Ann Arbor High School for two weeks last spring. The troubles began last May 24, when an estimated 100 black students protested over the use of a curriculum questionnaire distributed to black students only. The protest led to a "teU-off" session at which the black students (approximately 6 per cent of the student body) aired their grievances against the faculty and administration. Following the presentation of 21 demands "to correct racial inequities" at the high school, Ann Arbor High was closed for several days because of fights whiehbrokeout May 29 between Negro and white students. "Partial martial law" was instituted at AAHS by former principal Nicholas Schreiber, and a contingent of about 20 uniformed and plain-clothed p o 1 i c e m e n patrolled the grounds and corridors for several days until the school year ended June 11. What has happened at Ann Arbor High School in the past 11 months? How is the present racial climate? Are relations better or worse between black and white students, and between students and the administration? What are Pioneer and Huron Bi-Racial Citizen's A d v i s o r y Committees doing? The News interviewed black and white students, members of the Bi-Racial committees, and teachers and administrative personnel in an attempt to find out. The students interviewed were nearly unanimous in the belief that the past year has made the 3,340 white students "more a ware'' and "more respectful" of the needs and complaints of the 197 black students. "Before the racial troubles last spring, many white kids were unaware of any racial problems at the high school," according to Riek Bolhouse, a white Pioneer High student who is a member of the Pioneer ■ High Bi-Racial Committee. " 'What racial situation? ' they would ask if the subject was brought up," Bolhouse said. "Now there is more acceptance of the fact there is a problem and that something has to be done about it." _ Larry Wright, a black Pioneer sophomore and a member of his school's Bi-Racial ] mittee, agreed there seems to be more awareness of black students' needs among white students. But he emphasized there is "still a lot of tensión" among the races, such as in the delicate area of choosing cheerleaders. "Many black students feel their demands have been watered down," said Walter Blackwell, the black citizen representative on the Pioneer Bi-Racial Committee. M r s . Emily Gardner, a parent on the same committee, agreed: "There is still an undercurrent of great frustration among many black students. This should not be under-emphasized." Mrs. Gardner added that, despite some good signs of change, she is still "disturbed at the amount of división amongtheracesinAnn Arbor," including Ann Arbor High School. Members of the Huron High Bi-Racial Committee were very reticent to make any assessment of the present racial climate at the high schools. "Such an assessment is one of the goals of our committee," one member stated. But Eddie Martin, the black I citizen representative on the Huron board, called the I committee's formation "a step in the right direction, but only a step." From the teachers' perspective, Mrs. Eleanor Hoag, a member of the Pioneer Bi-Racial Committee and an English teacher, says she feels a "real I significant start" has been made at the high schools in trying to increase racial understanding. Douglas Horning, a Pioneer a t h 1 e t i c instructor, agreed there have been changes in the past year. "Some changes can be seen on paper,'' he remarked. "But the real changes among the students have to come from within." He added that these changes are "hard to see. They hayen't been earth-shaking." Pioneer High Principal Theodore R. Rokicki and Huron Principal Paul Meyers feel their schools are "more liveable" and "more relaxed" this year than last- mainly because the doublé shifts instituted last fall drastically reduced the number of pupils in the building at one time. Rokicki also thinks the I ment of 14 of the black students' 21 demands, plus the establishment of a student commons and more student committees, have helped allay many student complaints. (The rash of underground newspapers published by certain AAHS students however, indícate a host of student gripes still remain. A recent issue of "The Student Liberation Front," for example, blasted the school administration for its "repressive" policies, especially those which limit the type of literature which may be distributed on the high-school grounds to students.) Both Meyers and Rokicki cautioned, however, that it is difficult to compare the racial climate of last year and this year, because of the doublé shift. Students have very little I time to congrégate and perhaps start trouble, because of the tight class schedule and shorter class day, they say. Rokicki offered his view that black and white students seem to be "much more open with each other" this year, but beyond that observation, he said it was difficult to assess student racial relations. If one judges the racial conditions on the basis of fights, Rokicki said, there have been only two minor scuffles this year, and niether was racial in character. Ronald R. Edmonds, the school system's human tions director who was appointed last August, said he sees a d e f i n i t e change t h i s year among the students: "Last year, there were lots of nebulous complaints. This year, there are fewer complaints and they're more specific. "To me, this indicates the students think there's somebody somewhere who will listen and who will get them some action." This apparent increase in communication betwen students and administration is no accident. Rokicki and Meyers said they have been "working hard" at it since they became more conscious of the need for better student - facülty - tion communication last spring. I Many observers believe the Bi-Racial Advisory Committees at Pioneer and Hurón are two big reasons why tions among students, faculty, and administration seem. to have improved this year. The 13-member committees- one of the black students' 21 demands - were formed last December. Their purpose? To advise Supt. W. Scott Westerman Jr. and the high-school administrations on race relations and related problems. Eaclr committee is composed of six students - three black and three white; three teachers, two parents and two community residents. Members of the Huron High Bi-Racial Advisory Committee are students Karen Moss, Janet Polasky, Carolyn Steele, Jon Franzblau, Curtis Reed and James Telfer; teachers Ernest Gillum, Leonard Hoag and Desm o n d Ryan; p a r e n t s Mrs. Rosemarian Blake and Stanley Seashore, and community resirtents Eddie Martin and Russell West. Pioneer Hi?h Bi-Racial Advisory Committee members are students Robert Albano, Riek Bolhouse, Terry Brooks, David Curby, Roseann Kirkland, and Larry Wright; teachers Maurice Gottlieb, Eleanor Hoag and Douglas Horning; parents Harry Mial and Mrs. Emily Gardner, and citizens Dr. Meivin Selzer and Walter Blackwell. Both committees meet weekly. Huron held its first meeting Feb. 10, Pioneer on Jan. 22.