59 minutes | Jul 9th 2020

IN Focus with Archer Bunner and Bill Engle

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In July I’m continuing to guest host a few episodes of the public affairs program IN Focus on WCTV, talking with my guests about racism and what it means for people in our community — especially white people — to be listening, learning and taking meaningful anti-racist action so that everyone who lives here can know justice. In today’s show, I talk with Archer Bunner, a teacher at Richmond High School and a leader with the Alternatives to Violence Project, about wrestling with bias and racism in a classroom setting, and how thinking about different models of conflict resolution could complement calls to change how policing works. In the second segment I talk with Bill Engle, member of Richmond’s Common Council and a former local reporter, about the role that local government might play in addressing racism, and what it looks like for Richmond as a city to really work on these issues together. With both Archer and Bill I appreciate that they were willing to talk openly with me about the challenges of confronting and working on racism in our lives and professions. They were candid about the concerns they’ve faced, and in that I think they modeled that we don’t have to have all the answers to make progress. I learned from these conversations and I hope you will too. I welcome your feedback. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app. Disclosure: as I note in the episode itself, I was a contributor to Bill Engle’s 2019 election campaign for Common Council. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Hi, and welcome to this week’s IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WCTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, and I’m sitting in for Eric Marsh as your host for a few episodes here in July. As with last week, in these conversations, we are continuing to look at what it means for our community to work on and really make progress on the serious, and historic challenges of racism and racial discrimination. In particular, we’re exploring what it means for white people here to join in and attempt to understand our role in systems of racism, what privileges and biases contribute to that, and what actions we can take to be a part of the solution. As white people, I think we need to show that we are listening, that we are understanding, and that we are willing to do some hard work on ourselves in the name of justice for all. My two guests this hour will help us have a part of those conversations. In a bit, I’ll be talking with Bill Engle, a member of Richmond’s City Council, and a former local reporter. First, I’m talking with Archer Bunner, a teacher at Richmond High School, and a conflict resolution workshop facilitator. Archer, thanks so much for joining me today. Archer Bunner: Thank you. Chris: If you could, just tell us a little bit about your background and the kinds of work that you do. Archer: Great. Yeah, my name is Archer Bunner. I’m a teacher at Richmond High School. I teach mostly in the Math Department under the special education wing. I work with students who have identified learning disabilities of all types. I also teach a conflict resolution class. That class comes from a nonprofit that I work with called The Alternatives to Violence Project. It’s a national and international nonprofit that runs conflict resolution workshops in schools, communities and prisons. A lot of what I spend my time doing is working with them and working at the school. Chris: Awesome. My understanding is you’ve taught that workshop in lots of different settings, lots of different contexts, group sizes and everything else. Is it material that you feel just really comfortable with at this point? Or is it an area where you are still learning? How does one master the area of conflict resolution? Archer: Well, facilitating the workshops is certainly an area that I feel very comfortable with, but practicing conflict resolution, your life is a never-ending process. Practicing all of the different skills that you learned, particularly how to be defensive and react in a way that de-escalates a situation rather than escalates a situation, and how to attempt to address conflict even when you feel some fear. Those are definitely things that I still struggle with, which is one of the reasons why I stay working with the program. It’s not a program that’s about teaching other people to deal with things. It’s a personal growth thing. Everybody who comes is working on themselves together, to try and keep getting better at addressing those conflicts that are making our lives more difficult. Chris: Sounds really powerful. We’ll, in just a little bit here, get to the connection between that exploration and personal growth with conflict resolution and racism, and systemic racism. We’ve been talking the last couple episodes here about the challenges of racism and white privilege, and especially what white people can do to make sure that we are listening, that we’re understanding, and that we’re taking meaningful action. I think about the classroom setting in the school system as a place where the young people in our community are undoubtedly having opportunities to see racism, to maybe understand it, maybe to confront it. I wonder if you can share a little bit about what you’ve seen, just as a teacher in that setting, even before some of the recent renewal of attention to racism in our community and around the country has happened. What have you noticed? Archer: I’ve been teaching for six years at the high school, and then I had a year of student teaching where I was actually Hibberd, in the LOGOS program and at the high school. Throughout my entire career as a teacher, race and racism is definitely on the minds of the young people that I work with, in ways that ebbs and flows. It seems that there will be sometimes connected to a national movement or sometimes connected to some of the shootings that have happened by police. There’ll be a big burst of energy where students are really talking about it, arguing with each other, having conversations, talking with me about it. Other times, just for seemingly no reason, it just seems to be a big topic that will just run throughout the school, and students will be really focused on thinking and talking about it. It’s definitely something that students, in particular, notice and want to talk about, want to explore. I would say, some of my personal experiences in the classroom that I’ve struggled with around racism are when students do call me racist, which definitely has happened. Especially when I was a younger teacher, and especially before I started really working on myself, I was very defensive about this. I didn’t think of myself as a racist. No, I didn’t think what I was doing was really separate, and that I was trying to tell them what they were doing was inappropriate, yelling or throwing something in class, or just being a distraction, right? Things that I saw, as a teacher, as typical things that you should try to tell students not to be doing in the classroom. Over time, well, I went through some trainings, some anti-oppression trainings, and I realized it’s less about my response, my defensiveness, or me thinking I’m not a racist, and more about whatever it was that I did that made that student say that, that’s important for me to try to understand and address, regardless of my own personal feelings about myself because whatever it was that I did is making that student feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the classroom. It needs to be worked on. That’s definitely something that I have experienced and try to continue to think about in myself. Yeah. Chris: Yeah. I mean, what does that look in an ideal situation, in that classroom setting where that exchange is unfolding? What did you notice about the difference between how you responded in the earlier days where you mentioned feeling defensive, and that was the initial response to, what do we get to? What do we try to aim for in a different response, or what’s an ideal way that a situation like that can unfold? Archer: Yeah. Well, stating, “I’m not racist,” not an effective response. Chris: Okay. Archer: Trying to have a conversation with the student one on one is the ideal thing. Finding a way to… really, the ideal thing is to have a better relationship with students that I’m disciplining in the first place, to have a relationship where they feel they can share with me when I’m being overly disciplinarian does help on the front end. Building a better classroom culture helps on the front end of that kind of a situation. Then when it happens, having a one on one conversation to ask. The ideal thing would be, “No, I’m sorry I came off this way. That wasn’t my intent. I didn’t mean to make you feel that I was treating you differently. What can we do to move forward?” Chris: Yeah. In one of my earlier conversations, we talked about the distinction. A lot of people think of racism or would define a racist is just, if someone does this overt intentional act to hurt someone because of the color of their skin, that that’s what racism is. I think we’ve been learning, some of you all have known this for a very long time, but it’s coming out again in this current conversation, that racism is much more than that. There are systems that we’re part of, things white privilege, that inform who we
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