In early June students in the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District filed an administrative complaint with the district to request an investigation into their experience of a chronic failure to meaningfully address pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia.
The students formed an alliance they call the Cultivative Coalition, and they filed the complaint with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. Supporting the process is Elisabeth Lambert, a two-year Equal Justice Works fellow who is dedicated to working on school discrimination and equity issues in Wisconsin.
Lambert described how the students have both a similarity in their experience of feeling harassed and targeted at school, while also having differences in their unique experiences of racism, sexism, and homophobia.
“What’s powerful about these students is that despite those differences, they are clear about the intersectionality of their efforts and the solidarity they have,” said Lambert. “They are united in the sense of wanting the power structure in Chippewa Falls to pay attention to voices that haven’t been heard, and to have the district—in a systemic way—think about how to change its culture to provide more support. Instead of thinking of themselves as categories, they think of themselves as a coalition.”
The complaint process is a part of Wisconsin’s state administrative code and is intended to be a non-adversarial process to request an investigation. The ACLU expects the district to finish the investigative process and issue a statement in 90 days. While there have been some negative responses from the community—which Lambert points to as more evidence of a toxic environment the students are calling out—most of the community’s response has been positive and supportive, and more students are coming forward to share their experiences.