Student tokenism happens when adults use students to validate adult views, actions or ideas.
Tokenism happens in school policy and through activities in education every day. It is so deep in schools that many students and adults never know they’re tokenizing student voice, and students don’t know when they’re being tokenized. Students often internalize tokenism, which takes away their ability to see it, and adults are very invested in it, which takes away their ability to stop it. It is important to teach students and adults about tokenism in schools and how it can affect them.
Understanding Student Tokenism
When adults appoint students to represent, share, or promote student voice, they are making a symbolic gesture towards young people. This step is generally meant to increase or demonstrate student engagement in topics adults think they need to be heard about. It can also be meant to appease student and adult advocates and stop people from complaining.
When students specifically seek to represent, share, or promote student voice, they are generally seeking a portion of control over their personal educational experience. In schools, this can look like joining student government, starting a student voice club, or holding a protest after school or at a school board meeting.
Unfortunately, these approaches to student voice actually reinforce adultism in schools. They do this by reinforcing adult power and highlighting the inability of students to actually change anything in education without adult permission. With the increased interest in student voice—which is any expression of students about learning, schools, or education—tokenism is bound to happen. Tokenism happens whenever students are in formal and informal roles only to say they have a voice, instead of purpose, power, and possibility. Without that substance, student voice is little more than loud whisper into a vacuum.Today, adults tokenize student voice and students tokenize student voice. This section explains how.