Housing discrimination can be a tough issue to explain to an adult.
At Duniway Elementary, educators aren’t letting its complexities stop them from teaching the history of discriminatory housing practices and the Fair Housing Act, the 1968 legislation meant to address those effects.
This month, the school is tackling the subject by hosting a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon. April is designated as Fair Housing Month by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Nina Levine, a fifth-grade teacher at Duniway, has infused fair housing into her curriculum, teaching children history about housing discrimination throughout Portland and the United States. She said her lessons touch on sensitive topics, such as the historically discriminatory practice of redlining.
Students notice things like the lack of diversity in their neighborhoods and schools, she said. Teaching students about the history of housing discrimination within the city helps answer questions about why those differences among neighborhoods exist, she said.
“Kids are really thirsty for information and truth,” Levine said. “They don’t want things sugar-coated.”
Being able to show students disparities still exist can be enlightening for students, said Levine. In Oregon, and many other parts of the country, the Fair Housing act has actually helped reinforce segregation.
Levine, who grew up in New York City, said she was taken aback by the lack of diversity within Oregon. The state is about 78 percent white, according to the U.S. Census bureau.
The lack of diversity can be even starker within a school like Southeast Portland’s Duniway, located near Reed College. About 15 percent of its 430 students are not white.
“These kids don’t all have the opportunity because of where they live to learn more about kids in an area where there’s a lot of racial, ethnic, religious and economic diversity,” said Levine. “It’s important for these kids to have those skills when they’re going out into broader communities.”
After Levine took on the topic last year, she reached out to the Fair Housing Council of Oregon to bring the traveling exhibit, called “Anywhere But Here” to the school this year. The school’s principal, Matt Goldstein, and other educators got on board immediately.
“It’s one of our critical missions to really try to integrate ideas of why Oregon looks the way that it does,” said Goldstein, who started as principal this year.
Outside Levine’s classroom, posters for a Fair Housing art competition decorate a bulletin board proclaiming April as Fair Housing Month. Students gave their artistic take on this year’s theme, “Everyone is Welcome in My Neighborhood," by featuring drawings of people of all ethnicities and with various disabilities.
Teachers are already planning their activities with the Fair Housing exhibit, which will be at the school on April 17. The event will be open to the public from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the school, at 7700 S.E. Reed College Place.
Levin said she’s hoping for a good turnout for the subject. She believes addressing the topic will help educate the future voters in her classroom about the importance of diversity, she said.
“It sounds so corny, but our individual humanity is based on understanding the humanity of everyone,” she said. “We live together in this world and our community is enriched not just by commonalities, but our differences.”
-- Nicole Dungca