Students and staff reflect on race policies at the high school

Equally+as+important+as+responding+to+racist+incidents+is+prevention+work+and+ensuring+a+diverse+and+inclusive+community.+

ANOUSHKA MALLIK/SAGAMORE STAFF

Equally as important as responding to racist incidents is prevention work and ensuring a diverse and inclusive community.

Racism at the high school is something that cannot be ignored, so what can we do to move forward?

The high school has experienced many incidents involving racism, such as videos posted on social media, and the administration has a responsibility to respond. However, changing our culture to be more preventative instead of reactionary is equally as important.

Headmaster Anthony Meyer said that the Central Administration, including the School Committee, Superintendent and Directors of Education, is in charge of broadly overseeing the course of action the school will take when an incident of racism emerges. However, it is up to Meyer, Dean of Student Support Systems Brian Poon and possibly other Associate Deans to ultimately make a decision regarding a student’s punishment. Meyer said that incidences of racism are handled on a case-by-case basis.

From there, the administration must decide whether or not they should contact the police and start an investigation. According to Meyer, asking questions can help determine the best response.

“Was it directed at a particular individual or a particular group? What sort of language was utilized and how can that language be interpreted? Are kids safe as a result?” Meyer asked.

Meyer said that once these questions have been answered, he moves forward by thinking about how he can best support the students who have been affected.

Meyer added that the high school must abide by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which means that he cannot share the consequences that a student was given without explicit permission from the student and their guardian.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, FERPA entitles all students to privacy. It also provides that students and guardians must be contacted when disclosing information that could be considered an invasion of privacy including health records and punishment records. Additionally, students and guardians must be informed of these rights if a teacher, headmaster or someone else plans to release this information.

METCO Coordinator Malcolm Cawthorne said that once something is made public, there are certain elements of protection for a perpetrator that are lost.

“If someone makes a video on social media, you can’t turn around and say we have to maintain privacy and protection because the video is viral. There is no privacy anymore,” Cawthorne said. “All the kids know that, so, frankly, I think that’s what upsets them most.”

Senior Elsa Ha echoed this sentiment, saying that a large reason for dissatisfaction among students is that they feel they are not being informed to the extent that they deserve to be.

“Personally, I do think they need to be a bit more clear in these situations, which would be really helpful to students who feel they’re being kept in the dark and not being treated with the respect that the school says that they treat us with,” Ha said.

In regard to the video that emerged in 2017, with three white students and one Indian student repeatedly calling a member of the African-American and Latinx Scholars Program (AALSP) the N-word, Meyer admitted that his response could have been more timely and informative.

Meyer said that he hopes he has moved forward and effectively addressed past issues in a productive and empathetic manner.

“I know what I tried to do, and then more importantly, once we began to communicate more about it, I tried to be really honest about what were our intentions, what are the lessons learned and what I can own and apologize for,” Meyer said.

In response to the 2017 video, there was a protest led by multiple students in AALSP, including Anthony Saunders ‘18, who said his goal was to educate people.

“I really don’t remember what I said in that speech, but I do remember all the emotions because BHS students, alumni and everyone else needs to be educated,” Saunders said.

According to Associate Dean of Students Summer Williams, the focus of the general public should not lie in wanting to know the punishment but in trying to help someone understand their mistakes.

“We live in this, ‘I want to know what happened to that person. I want to know how they were punished or what happened to them so I feel better,’ but that doesn’t necessarily help someone grow or learn or understand what they’ve done,” Williams said. “That feels more like public shaming and I don’t think that’s productive.”

Williams emphasized the responsibility of the students, saying that it is up to the whole community, not just the administration, to ensure that the high school’s culture is respectful.

“I don’t believe in this idea of ‘the administration.’ I think that does not speak to our ability to think about these things as a community,” Williams said. “I don’t think it supports this idea that we all are responsible to the culture that we have here and to the culture that we’re trying to create here and sometimes have created.”

Junior and president of the Asian and Pacific-American Club (APAC) Jackie Gu said that students must push their thinking. However, she added that the administration has a role in shaping how students think.

“I want to acknowledge that there’s only so much the administration can do,” Gu said. “They can’t go into the minds of every single person and erase their personal biases, but to some extent, if the administration brushes things off, it teaches students that they can do the same.”

Ha said that while the administration holds a lot of the responsibility for the high school’s culture, other aspects of the community, including classes such as Social Justice and Racial Awareness, can help prevent racist incidents from occurring.

According to Ha, these classes can prove beneficial in improving understanding around racial issues. However, it often ends up that the people who should be taking these classes are not.

“A lot of the times the kids that should be taking those classes don’t want to because they’re afraid of being made out to seem ignorant or something, so I think that if kids can just be taught it in a welcoming environment that will really help a lot of kids feel more welcomed here,” Ha said.

Saunders agreed.

“I took a course my senior year about African-American history, and there were three white kids and the rest of us were Black. Those of us that were Black were either in METCO or Scholars or Steps. We are separated,” Saunders said.

Chinese teacher and APAC adviser Lihua Shorter said that a possible solution may be recognizing the importance of diversity in our school community. According to Shorter, interacting with more people of different backgrounds can break down a lot of racial barriers.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about diversity. When we talk about diversity, we talk about, ‘We need more Black teachers or Latino teachers or Asian-American teachers,’” Shorter said. “We’re not doing that as a favor to students of those racial backgrounds — if we have close interactions with people who don’t look like us, we get a chance to understand them, to see them as one of us.”