A Blog Post entry by Christina Tillery
Black School Counselors Matter
I am a professional school counselor at a predominantly Black high school in Virginia. As a school counselor, I help students develop academically, emotionally, and socially. I deliver various services through individual consultations, group counseling, and classroom lessons. Unfortunately, the profession is still highly misunderstood. Historically, schools had guidance counselors. Those were educators whose sole purposes were graduation requirements and post-secondary planning. They had little interaction with students, families, and the community. Over time, our role and purposes have evolved into a more holistic approach - working with the whole child by providing social-emotional support and resources.
YET, there are still school counselors who act as gatekeepers. Institutional power allows school counselors to determine which students have access to higher-level courses, programs, and college information. This is a power that I have to acknowledge, reconcile, and continue to be mindful of. There are too many accounts of school counselors pushing Black students and other students of color out of advanced courses or opportunities for higher education. Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared in Becoming (the book and documentary) that the college counselor at her high school stated that she was not "Princeton material" (Collman, 2019). (Imagine being that person.) When the Becoming documentary was released on Netflix, a Twitterstorm of people shared similar experiences involving school counselors. Honestly, it was hurtful to read the tweets. I love what I do, and to see people express disdain for counselors was upsetting. However, their experiences are valid, but it made me question what needs to change in the school counseling profession?
School counselors cannot continue to be a part of the discriminatory practices that hinder Black and Brown students in schools. We must be fighting against it and bringing about change.
This leads me to my main point:
BLACK SCHOOL COUNSELORS MATTER!
I became a school counselor simply because I love to help others. However, there are layers within that sentiment. School counseling is a method to interrupt and destroy systemic racism that is rampant in public schools. I am careful of my interactions with students and parents to ensure that I am providing them with the best information and service. When I don't know something, I find out and share. I refuse for the families I service to be left behind because they did not know or understand. Where someone may find a hopeless situation, I see potential. Every day I have the ability to help a young person reach their personal definition of success.
I am not saying that white school counselors are not taking the same care with their students. I know that Black school counselors bring a unique perspective and insight into the field. For example, I WAS that lone Black student in the gifted program in a rural elementary school. I KNOW the feeling of having all eyes on you and performing better than everyone else to prove that you belong. Thankfully, I had a wonderful support system at home, but that is not the case for every child.
According to DataUSA’s 2017 statistics, Black (Non-Hispanic) counselors only made up 19.4 % of the profession. This implies that students sit in offices with someone who does not have those shared experiences or may think less of their abilities to succeed due to bias. This cannot continue. Knowledgeable and qualified Black school counselors serve as mirrors and windows. Even though the mirrors-and-windows framework is typically used concerning curriculum, but it applies here (Style, n.d.). Black students deserve school counselors that can reflect their own experiences (mirror) and counselors that can provide thoughtful wisdom about non-shared experiences (windows).
Furthermore, I believe that all students benefit from having Black school counselors. There isn't a lot of research on this sentiment. But I am certain that Black school counselors' effect is similar to the effect that Black teachers have on white students (Carver-Thomas, 2018).
My top proposed solutions:
● Increased recruitment of Black students into Counselor Education programs
● Retention strategies for Black students in Counselor Education programs
● Increased full funding opportunities for Black students in Counselor Education programs
● Recruitment and retention strategies for Black school counselors by school districts
Students deserve Black school counselors who are trained and committed to uprooting decades of systemic racism in schools. Black school counselors who lead with radical love, empathy, and a heart for justice. Black school counselors will equip Black students (and all students) with the necessary tools and encouragement to propel them to their next step. Black students will see their reflections and know that they will be more than what society has for them. Higher education must hold itself accountable in the recruitment and retention methods of Black graduate students. Furthermore, build partnerships with local school districts to assist placement after graduation. In 2021, we must move beyond book clubs and panel discussions to proactively evoke change. Our young students should not have to continue to undergo negligence, harmful practices, and racism due to our inability to boldly say and act on the notions that Black school counselors matter, Black students matter, and Black lives matter. The time is here and we are the now.
Carver-Thomas, D. (2018, April 19). Diversifying the teaching profession: How to recruit and retain teachers of color. Learning Policy Institute. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/diversifying-teaching-profession-report
Collman, A. (2019, January 17). A college counselor told Michelle Obama she wasn't 'Princeton material' — but she applied to the Ivy League school anyway and got in. Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/michelle-obama-wasnt-princeton-material-college-counselor-told-her-2018-11
DataUSA. (2018). Counselors. https://datausa.io/profile/soc/counselors#about
Style, E. (n.d.). Curriculum As Window and Mirror. National Seed Project. https://nationalseedproject.org/Key-SEED-Texts/curriculum-as-window-and-mirror