Last week, an exclusive story appeared on this website about Dayanna Volitich, a social studies teacher at Crystal River Middle School in Florida who was moonlighting as “Tiana Dalichov,” the host of a white nationalist podcast called “Unapologetic.”
Volitich splashed racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic beliefs all over her alter ego’s social media accounts and podcasts. She even talked about getting away with racist behavior in the classroom when parents complained about her white supremacist views.
While Volitich has garnered an incredible amount of attention and backlash, many minority students can tell you that teachers like her, and the ideologies that reportedly bled into her classroom, are nothing new.
Reports show that the majority of teachers in the United States are white, indicating a severe lack of representation when it comes to educators in our school system. Similarly, there are marked disparities in education outcomes for children of color, specifically black and Latino children, versus their white counterparts. Several scholars have reported that white teachers’ inherent biases are among the most powerful forces working against students of color.
Often, minority students are perceived as being less capable, less intelligent and less likely to succeed in the education system ― Volitich voices this sentiment in her podcast, where she stipulates that science has proven that “certain races are smarter than others.”
Such views are not rare ― white teachers are statistically less likely to believe that their black students, in particular, will graduate from high school and attend college.
Some school systems have begun taking pre-emptive measures to combat the biases teachers bring with them into the classroom. In October, Volitich tweeted under her pseudonym that her school was making her learn about the effects of white privilege and systemic racism, even though “systemic racism and white privilege aren’t real.”
Many minority students can recount a personal experience with an educator’s stereotyping or racism. Very often, racism subtly masks itself as brief and commonplace microaggressions that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults toward minorities. Microaggressions are just as harmful as Volitich’s outright racist vitriol, and they still feed systemic racism in this country.
Volitich isn’t the exception to the rule ― she is the rule. We can’t forget that all of the statistical data points to the fact that racism is all too prevalent in our school systems.
Growing up as a black student attending a primarily white school, I regularly faced various levels of racism. My middle school English teacher told me I was “surprisingly articulate”; my orchestra teacher defended Don Imus’ characterization of the predominantly black female Rutgers basketball team as ”nappy headed hoes”; my health teacher rationalized why white people should be able to say the N-word. My education has always been intertwined with racial microaggressions.
These examples only just touch the tip of the iceberg. My experiences are mild compared to the litany of racial outbursts other students face, some of which have recently been the topic of comedy shows, caught on cellphones or circulated online.
In 2017, here in Boston, students from the city’s prestigious Boston Latin Academy high school created the viral hashtag #BlackAtBLA. Using the hashtag, they addressed the racism that they faced from both peers and teachers. Recent studies have found that more and more black families, for example, are homeschooling their children because of the racism that students are taught and experience in school systems. This is for good reason ― studies have closely linked racism and depression in black and Latino children.
If it’s not the teacher, it’s the educational material: The overarching, painful reality is that the entire system is corrupt at its core. And it isn’t bound to improve much underneath the weighty thumb of Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, who proposed slashing the Education Department’s budget. She also recently reversed two Obama-era laws concerning college campus assault, making it harder for victims to successfully file sexual misconduct complaints. Our schools have never been a safe place for minority students, but are rapidly and progressively becoming less so.
At the end of the day, Volitich isn’t the exception to the rule ― she is the rule. So while she exists now as an outlandish caricature of white nationalism, we can’t forget that all of the statistical data points to the fact that racism is all too prevalent in our school systems. And not only is racism prevalent; it is having a direct effect on the educational outcomes of minority students.
Do most white teachers moonlight as white supremacists on a poorly put-together podcast? Probably not. But do most white teachers bring their own personal biases and beliefs about minority students into the classroom? Studies tell us that yes, they do. Our school systems are largely discriminatory and racist as a whole, and we can’t forget that many teachers share Volitich’s views but are simply better at hiding them.
The saddest part is that minority students like me have experienced thousands of Volitiches throughout our time in the education system. The outrage against Volitich is here now, but where’s the outrage at the system as a whole? Where are the demands to reform how education in this country works?
For now, Volitich will be a scapegoat, positioned as a rarity. But to us, she’s just another unveiled racist who happened to get caught and crucified ― while the overarching problem of racism in our school systems is overlooked and discreetly brushed under the rug.