The Evanston Township High School’s (ETHS) “affinity” program allows Black and Latino students to segregate themselves and be taught by a non-white teacher voluntarily; this, school leaders say, allows students to feel safe and be more willing to take difficult courses.Currently, this affinity program has about 200 Black and Latino students enrolled in the Advancement Placement (AP) math and writing courses, which Blacks, historically, take about 50 percent less often than white students. ETHS leaders believe the affinity classes will help Black and Latino students feel more supported and safer, allowing them to be more successful.
“Our Black students are, for lack of a better word…at the bottom, consistently still. And they are being outperformed consistently,” Monique Parsons, Evanston school board vice president, said at a November board meeting. “It’s not good.”
ETHS math department Chair Dale Leibforth told the Evanston school board at a meeting early this year that the school has employed “affinity-based” math classes for black and Latino students since at least 2021. He called the courses for black students “AXLE” and for Latino students “GANAS.”
“We’re continuing expanding that program,” Leibforth said. “So, we’re excited about the opportunities that will bring for our students in those affinity spaces.”
“My personal hope in teaching the GANAS courses is that I am able to provide opportunities where my students feel empowered and motivated as well as creating a space where students can show up as their authentic selves,” said Lopez. “I hope that in having Latinx-specific math lessons that include real-world data, we can have conversations where students feel seen, validated, and appreciated as Latinx folks.”
Meanwhile, Denisha Allen, founder of Black Minds Matter, an organization advocating school choice to improve students’ academic achievement, told The Epoch Times that separating students into their racial groups is not going to address the poor academic, one-size-fits-all approach to teaching black students.
“Creating more segregation within a failed system is not the answer. We need school choice. Families of all backgrounds and demographics must have the autonomy to direct their child’s education funding toward a school or learning environment that aligns with their needs, preferences, and values,” said Allen.
Catherine E. Lhamon, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights, sent a letter early this year to school leaders to clarify the guidelines for how programs like affinity classes could be implemented because of the increased number of complaints her office has received.
Lhamon referred to Title IX, which in part states, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Of the over 3,600 students that comprise Evanston, 44 percent are white, 24 percent are black, 20 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are Asian. The ETHS community includes a mix of wealthy and lower-income families. Like most urban schools, ETHS has an equity department that oversees the district’s equity initiatives to ensure that the community challenges what they call “systemic racism.”