Clarksville, TN – Austin Peay State University (APSU), Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) and Spring Forth Counseling Center recently coordinated a virtual forum called “Turning the Talk” to empower middle and high school students to discuss social injustice.
“Turning the Talk” was the brainchild of Michelle Lowe, Montgomery County’s diversity training officer.
“She reached out and wanted to discuss a way that we could allow CMCSS middle and high school students a chance to speak up about everything going on,” said Tina Duncan, a school counselor at New Providence Middle School and alumna of Austin Peay State University.
Duncan knew she wanted to be a part of the project. Her job at New Providence is to build relationships with students and their families, “creating social and emotional lessons that help students cope with different life obstacles” and developing “relationships with all stakeholders involved in a school setting.”
‘Conversation was a long time coming’
The goal was to put middle and high school seniors in the driver’s seat.
“The students brought a lot of great ideas and thoughts to the table, but some that stuck out to me were ideas on how to change the perspective of African American students,” Duncan said. “They talked a lot about how their teachers, communities and different people in their lives perceive them. They felt as if people view them in a negative way, where they see themselves as full of potential.”
When someone is young, empowerment is hard to come by. It can be intimidating to share thoughts with adults. Fortunately, the students were eager and willing to talk. They felt validated.
“I think this conversation was a long time coming,” Duncan said. “It allowed students to feel comfortable knowing that other students, right here in their community, felt the same way. They knew they weren’t alone.”
Being out of school since March, the students had plenty of time to digest news happening in America. Duncan said that they needed a time that was “strictly about them.”
Virtual communication comes with its own set of challenges, but Duncan believes people are willing to embrace these realities when the conversation is as important as this.
“When people are ready to be a part of something that can change and elevate the next generation, they will be a part of the conversation no matter if it’s virtual or in person,” Duncan said.
Austin Peay State University Connections
In addition to Duncan, APSU alumnae Cavelle Gonga and Yunetta Smith, along with Dr. Eva Gibson, assistant professor of psychological sciences, participated in the virtual forum.
Smith is the founder of Spring Forth Counseling Center, whose mission, according to its website, is to “provide quality therapeutic services and support to Clarksville, Fort Campbell and surrounding communities.”
“The great part about having Yunetta there was the idea that change can be made,” Duncan said. “Counseling fields all together lack African American identity. Having a Black mental health counselor on the panel gave the students another opportunity to see African American educated adults excelling in a career.”
While “Turning the Talk” was a great first step, the conversation is far from over. Duncan hopes to continue working with CMCSS and Spring Forth in the future.
“African American students need a place to talk and I will always want to be a part of it,” Duncan said.
To learn more
For more about the Austin Peay State University Department of Psychological Science and Counseling at Austin Peay, visit https://www.apsu.edu/psychology/.