Submitted by Lea Moser, MPH; Torey Dunlap, MPH; and Danny Hart, JD
A step forward one day and a thousand steps backward the next. Three weeks ago, the Washoe County School Board voted, in a third and final vote, against naming the new WCSD Signature Academy and Career & Technical Education (CTE) (previously the Proctor Hug High School) after the community minority leader, Dolores Feemster. Ms. Feemster was originally voted as the namesake for the CTE. However, after politicking and lobbying efforts, the decision was reversed in favor of former Assemblywoman Debbie Smith.
Given where we are today, amid race protests across our nation, the folly, the lack of connection to the community, and the continuation of keeping whites in places of prominence by the Board is patently offensive. The community demands the Board rename the CTE after Dolores Feemster.
The Board has a perfect history of naming our schools after questionable personages in predominantly black and brown communities. Never have they taken action to name our institutions after minority leaders who have worked in those communities and who stand as inspiration for the students who learn there.
Ms. Feemster was the Board’s opportunity to correct its past mistakes and provide inspiration for the future. Ms. Feemster was a local hero who not only lived and worked for the entirety of her life in the community and the schools, but was looked to as a symbol of hope in a community where most people of color felt hopeless.
The Board’s decision diminishes the CTE’s stated mission of connecting education and communities and does a disservice to the good work that Assemblywoman Debbie Smith did while alive. Assemblywoman Smith promoted the creation of CTE academies through her role as a legislative representative; a duty that was part of her job as a local representative and for which she will be remembered through her legislation.
In contrast, Ms. Feemster inspired thousands of people of color from a position without power and title. Indeed, when Ms. Feemster passed, the only venue capable of hosting her memorial service was the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. We don’t suggest that Assemblywoman not have a school named after her – this is simply not the right one.
The WCSD’s Board has broken its promise to black and brown Nevadans. The Board’s vote further suppresses people of color and reinforces racially internalized trauma. The Board’s choice reminds people of color that no matter what you accomplish, a white person will always be placed above your head and voted to be your benefactor.
This form of erasure is particularly harmful to black students as they often cannot find teachers/professors in higher education who look like them and who they can relate to regarding race-related life experiences.
The WCSD Board is in a position of privilege to resolve the wrong bestowed upon the ancestors of present-day Hug High School black and brown students, teachers, and principals. Its job merely consisted of naming the school to foster an inclusive environment and to create racial equity.
Instead, the Board chose to ignore the community’s pleading and to follow the lobbying efforts of the white community; they choose to commit to political and social tribalism out of convenience from possible whitelash from the broader Nevadan community.
People of color deserve to have their accomplishments acknowledged within and outside of their own communities. There are currently no schools named after people of color in our Northern Nevada community. This does a disservice to the legacy of Dolores Feemster as a civil rights icon in the area and reminds all of us that no progress is being made in our community toward racial equality. The Board needs to take this small step forward; otherwise, it does a disservice to the children and the communities it serves.
Lea Moser, MPH is a 5th generation Nevadan and political candidate for District Assembly Seat 30. Torey Dunlap, MPH is a recent graduate of UNR’s School of Community Health Sciences and an epidemiologist. Danny Hart, JD is a local business owner.
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