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Equity Councils are more than just a ‘woke dream’

New Mexico’s public education system is in the process of being transformed, and that requires out-of-the-box thinking. The equity councils proposed by the New Mexico Public Education Department are a starting point for re-imagining what a successful education looks like, who it is shaped by, and how it supports the very people it has failed: low-income families and historically, systematically excluded families – indigenous, Spanish speaking, ESL and differently-abled students.

But before detailing how communities can directly influence the reshaping of our education, it is important to clarify how equity should be defined and why it is such an important aspect in truly building a stronger public education system in New Mexico.

In our own words, equity is about leveling the playing field on who gets to be part of the decision-making process in creating a system that will ensure the success of our communities in the short and long term. It is an opportunity to move away from thinking quantitative data drives success when it really begins with the qualitative surveying of this at the forefront of the failing education system.

It is not surprising there is opposition to the idea of creating equity councils. Opposition is a symptom of a colonized system in which certain voices are to be excluded for the purpose of maintaining the status quo. But we can no longer stand by idly as youth do not feel safe or welcomed for expressing their identities, experiencing inequalities where only some get all the resources needed to succeed while others do not, or where history is shaped without regard for the diverse communities that make up our vibrant culture and continue to be erased.

Being students of color, and from indigenous communities, we are here to say equity councils are needed to achieve true educational justice and have people of color voices shine through instead of being shadowed or dismissed once again.

Full implementation of equity councils will further promote indigenous practices that have been utilized since before colonization.

The idea of councils is deeply rooted within our cultural background because of our tradition and legacy of community collaboration. We learn from our elders, younger and older siblings, and relatives and community members who are always dedicating their time to teach each other.

As students who have experienced educational inequalities through most of our academic journey, we see the great need there is to apply equity in educational settings. This is about not being overlooked or silenced within the classroom due to our identities. On the contrary, it is about allowing the space for cultural expression to occur from the students and staff so they can truly create an inclusive space for all to feel proud and comfort in their identities.

With the 2020 Legislature right around the corner, we make a call to our elected officials to support the current endeavors being carried forward by the N.M. Public Education Department. Its work is ensuring students like us, our parents and other community members who are deeply invested in seeing our present and future generations succeed have a voice at the table. That is the first step toward breaking the cycle of failing students across the state.

As we embark on the journey to build an education system that ensures the success for every child in our state, we will continue to advocate for an evolution in educational spaces. It is necessary to continue to practice and uphold inclusivity. True equity is not the idea of a “woke dream,” rather it should and must be a materialized reality.

Ahéhee’ / Wopila (Thank you).

Emily Jaramillo is from Isleta Pueblo, McKenzie Johnson is from the Navajo Nation and Andrew Hollow Horn is Lakota/Dakota and Chichimeca.

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