Oregon House Committee approves Racial Equity Bill, with students at forefront

Shea Carlberg, Copy Editor

Student-initiated House Bill 3363 was passed by the House Education Committee after going through a hearing in April 2021. The bill calls for racial equality and student diversity on a state level by allowing minority students to oversee educational policies. It also directs the Department of Education to establish members in the collaboration between the Governor and the student board. 

The “Racial Equity and Justice Student Council” is planned to include 15 students, two administrators and two representatives from “cultural-specific communities.”

The bill aims to ensure that student representatives are diversified, with a 70 percent requirement that the students are from racial or ethnic communities that have been historically underserved. The members laid out in the bill include any student of color or student who belongs to a group that has been historically underserved, including but not limited to any student representatives from tribal student councils, the LGBTQ+ community, student leadership organizations, students participating in alternative education pathways and students from immigrant and refugee communities.

It also calls for adult advisors such as administrators, teachers and other school staff who support student leadership in public schools to be in close communication with student representatives for support. Additionally, the bill allows for a diverse group not just in race and cultural identification, but also geographically, seen as stated “student members who represent larger regions in the state than the regions identified.”

Raymond Arias, Tualatin High School senior and student leader, was head of the bill and hosted meetings urging classmates to participate in the fight for racial equity. As a minority himself, the bill has been especially urgent to Arias and a symbol of hope and progress.

“I consider myself very lucky to have had the service and leadership opportunities I did throughout my high school experience. I recognize, though, that very few individuals who come from similar socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds as mine are provided with the same platforms and support I received,” Arias said.

Arias explained how he first got together with his committee members to begin planning for the bill back in the summer of 2020 and how far things have progressed since. 

“This is why in August of last year, as the then-State President of the Oregon Association of Student Councils (OASC) along with the Director of Student Programming and Support of OASC, the Executive Director of the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators (COSA), and the President of REAP Inc., we came together in deciding that working towards implementing a Racial Equity and Justice Collaborative at the state-level was something that was overdue and needed to become a reality,” Arias said. “As the one student who has shaped the bill’s goals and priorities from the very beginning, it has been encouraging to witness the sheer volume of educators and administrators supportive of this initiative and student activism.”

Arias shared his high hopes for the bill and what it would mean for students thereafter. 

“My ambition is that this backing along with the collaborative, if made into law, will uplift and enable students to institute their vision for a more equitable public education experience.” 

Leading up to the hearing, Arias asked students to send in letters for the committee to read in support of the bill in order to supply more personal accounts as to why this bill was important to them. 

“To be honest, rallying involvement and input from students and community members was probably the least difficult part of this process,” Arias said. “There has been a considerable outcry from both groups, specifically individuals of color in these circles, to have legislation that takes into account student perspective in the policy-making process. Given the large networks of all the educational and student leadership-based organizations that were a part of the development of House Bill 3363, we were seamlessly able to tap into these sentiments of exclusion and transform it into a then-legislative concept.” 

Once the bill picked up steam, their planning committee was able to take the next steps for more people to join, with a greater number of participants than initially expected. 

“In December and January, our team was able to host two virtual forums with hundreds of attendees, who were overwhelmingly students, across the state to supply their recommendations on the legislative concept. Additionally, we also sought suggestions from outside pro-student associations, such as Oregon Student Voice, to ensure that students would be rightfully treated as the primary constituents in our work and hopefully educational policy as well.”

Arias described his experience working on the bill as being a very positive and uplifting one for his high school years. 

“I have found through working on House Bill 3363 that it has been the most thrilling and rewarding experience of my public education. A lot of things have been taken away from me this last year and a half or so with COVID-19, as is the case with basically everyone. Serving my peers has been my greatest joy since I can remember, so I’m happy I have been able to still do so through my persistent commitment and lobbying for this bill.” 

The opportunity to serve his peers hasn’t just been gratifying but also a chance for him to experience politics in a professional and engaging way.

“Besides the gratitude it has given me, it has also given me great first-hand experience in policy and politics via all the one-on-one meetings I have been in representing students with state House Representatives and Senators in gathering votes and sponsors for this bill,” Arias said. “Democrat or Republican, it has been an absolute pleasure holding discussions about House Bill 3363 (and even life at times) with all of them and being able to share my own story.”

He shared his feelings of relief about the bill finally being passed in the House Education Committee after months of dedication and waiting.

“A LOT of work, coordination, and outreach has been invested into this bill for the past 9-10 months from the entire team and myself, so it was definitely relieving seeing the bill advance onto the Joint Committee on Ways and Means to attach funding and budgeting for it,” Arias said. “Personally, I felt proud seeing it pass through the House Education Committee unanimously with votes from both sides of the aisle. In a time when our country seems so polarized, it is encouraging for me to see that there are still matters where both Democrats and Republicans can still unite behind a solution.”

As Arias reflects on his time working on the bill and the effects that it has had on him and future students, he shares advice to students like him looking to make a change.

“As a student, never shy away from taking matters into your own hands,” Arias stated.