Dear Director Cullen,
Recently you denied the existence of systemic racism, homophobia, and sexism. You attempted to discredit those standing up for equal rights by claiming “they need you to be a victim so they can control you,” and you stated to those who are oppressed that it’s their own responsibility to “break free.”
Those words are as deeply hurtful as they are woefully misguided, and your comments expose your disregard for battles still being fought against systemic injustices.
Because callousness toward injustice is not representative of our district or our community, I ask that you preserve the integrity of our school board and resign.
It is obvious that we are still fighting for the basic rights of others. The Supreme Court just handed down a landmark ruling that finally acknowledges the extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the LGTBQ community. Students from our district are joining the protests that have emerged in the wake of the repeated murders of unarmed black people.
This is not new; this is a moment reflective of our American tradition. The gradual, hard-fought extension of civil rights has been repeated throughout our history. The sacrifice of generations to obtain those rights, and the sacrifice of those who defend them, must never be forgotten, nor diminished by politics.
This is not just your political opinion, but ultimately a denial of those rights. Systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic homophobia, exist. Oppression has never been the result of a few bad actors. It is generations of decisions, maliciously designed institutions, conformist ideas, and daily choices we all make. Your denial of that is hurtful to our community. These experiences are not invented theories, or “preconceived notions.” They amount to daily threats to safety.
There are examples laden in even the most basic research. Black adolescents have experienced a shocking growth of deaths by suicide in the last twenty years. They are more likely to be exposed to violence and discrimination, are far less likely to receive care than white peers and are often diagnosed differently for the same behaviors.
Women in America still do not receive equal pay for equal work, face pressure to adhere to strict gender roles, and endure abhorrent rates of violence.
Members of the LGTBQ community face discrimination and harassment that contribute to significantly higher rates of substance use disorder and death by suicide. Research has shown more than one in four transgender individuals have suffered a bias-driven assault, with higher levels for trans women and trans people of color.
As someone who identifies as bisexual, I need you to understand your comments are wrong. I loved my time at Pennridge, but I was afraid to explore who I was; I feared rhetoric like yours, I didn’t join the Gay Straight Alliance out of a concern I could be labeled or targeted, and I felt from a young age I’d be disadvantaged if I didn’t “fit in.” Today I am a man who has learned to understand his identity in his 20s, only after overcoming intense challenges.
My experience is far from unique. The youth I am honored to work with in Bucks County are often students of color and LGBTQ. They will tell you these are systemic problems that will take all of us to solve. Your rejection of this is a rejection of our experiences.
Our students deserve respect from those overseeing their education and well-being. Our youth need to see those in power held to the standard they are expected to hold. For the sake of our Pennridge community, Ms. Cullen, please resign.
Pennridge Graduate, 2012