The “Black Lives Matter” forum that was held to celebrate the conclusion of Black History Month at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois caused confusion and alarm with parents after their white children were not allowed to attend.
“Black Lives Matter” was hosted by high school Principal Nathaniel Rouse as a platform to discuss racial equality. Roughly 350 students and staff who identify as black attended the forum.
White parents and their children were prevented from participating in the event, reports The Chicago Tribune.
After parents expressed their concerns about the event, the high school responded in a news release.
“…Some students and parents expressed confusion and concern about the event being for Black students only. Information about the event lacked clarity about this aspect of the conversation, and the high school is committed to improving communications in the future. Further conversations among and across other racial affinity groups shall take place at the high school in the coming months and into next year,” the release reads, in part, on Oak Park and River Forest High School’s website.
White students were turned away when they tried to attend the event, according to parents.
Now, some parents are offended that in a school and community that “prides itself on diversity and inclusion that students who wanted to attend would be excluded,” The Chicago Tribune reports.
Principal Rouse, who is black, said that was not the intent.
"First and foremost, this is not meant to give a connotation that we were trying to be exclusive," Rouse said.
Rouse claims he was using the affinity group method. In an affinity group, it is believed that students of one racial persuasion are able to express themselves fully and safely.
"In order for us to move forward, I believe the affinity group is the safe way for us to move forward in a safe environment," Rouse said.
Rouse, drawing from his own experiences as a black man, defends his actions.
"I found it has been far easier for me to talk about my experiences with racism with individuals that look like me," Rouse said. "I still struggle myself with talking about my experiences with people who don't look like me."
The thoughts and stories the black students shared during the event were not surprising to Rouse. They included talk of being the only black student in advanced placement classes, having few black teachers, and feelings on having to represent race rather than individual self during classroom discussions.
"Unfortunately, the stories that they shared weren't new to me. They were experiences I had in high school and experiences I had in college," Rouse said.
Rouse said he hopes to have similar events for white, Latino, and Asian students in the near future.
As of last year, Oak Park and River Forest High School's student population was 55 percent white, 27 percent back, nine percent Hispanic, six percent multi-racial, and three percent Asian.