Racism at Elite High Schools: Social Media Exposes, Leadership Fails
Boston Latin School students Maggie Noel, 17, and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, 18,have leveraged social media to bring attention to what they describe as ahostile racial environment forBlack studentsat theprestigious exam school.
On Jan. 18, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the high school seniors, who serve as leaders of the student organization Black Leaders Advocating for Change and Knowledge, posted a video to YouTubeto voice their plight.They urged studentsto use the hashtag#BlackAtBLSon social media to share theirexperiences with racism at their school.In the video, the teensrecite some of testimonies they received.
“Hashtag BlackAtBLS: When people can walk in the halls saying [the N-word] without fear of being reprimanded,” said Noel.
“Hashtag BlackAtBLS: When your white peers are using Twitter and Facebook to put out racial slurs and negative things about students of color. And you print out the tweets and givethem to your headmaster in a binder and then she does nothing about it,” said Webster-Cazeau.
Other tweets included:
Presidente (@PresidentTony) January 19, 2016
StudentsbelieveHeadmaster Lynne Mooney Tetahad beenignoringthe situation.
When the video went viral, classmateswore black to school to stand in solidarity with the activists, alumni started showing their support and the localmedia picked up the story.Teta met with members of the activist group and their parents on Jan. 22. On Monday, she issued six steps the school will take to address the issue, including open dialogue and ways to report inappropriate behavior.
During a Boston School Committee meeting Wednesday night, Webster-Cazeau and Noel were invited to speak to a supportive crowd. They said thatever since the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, there has been an increasingly hostile racial atmosphere at the school.
The teens said 16 months ago they gave Teta a binder with tweets sent by BLS students filled with racial slurs including calling their fellow students the N-word and telling them to go back to Africa. They said she did not discipline students for their behavior.
“The reason we are here is for two reasons: the amazing action of amazing students but we’re also here because of the inaction of adults,” BostonCity Councilor Tito Jackson said at the meeting. “The leadership at Boston Latin School failed to prevent that type of hostile environment.”
Boston Latin School is the first and oldest existing public school in the U.S. and has many prominent alumni. The school currently has 2,353 students, of which 47 percent are white, 29 percent are Asian, 10 percent are Black, 10 percent are Latino and .04 percent are American Indian.
Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang said Wednesday he will investigate the students’ charges and that school leaderswill work to create a more inclusive environment, which will include mandatory training.
Before the committee meeting, Webster-Cazeau, Noel and other BLS students met with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to discuss their issues. Afterward, Walsh tweeted:
Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) January 28, 2016
Brooklyn Technical High School students are speaking about their experiences with racism and micro aggressions at the elite school.
For example, a Facebook post by Jerfmaine West shows a photo of a window ledge with the text “Do not jump.” The “not”was crossed out and “Black people” was added after “jump.”
Another student posted on Facebook:
Black students wrote a letter detailing their complaints to be addressed byfaculty and staff. And alumni have started a petition, which states, in part:
A search of the trending #blackinbrooklyntech hashtag on Facebook will reveal some of the most utterly disgusting and offensive things that have been said to current students and alums by their peers and in some cases faculty.
Currently, Brooklyn Tech has 5,447 students, of which 61 percent are Asian, 20 percent are white, 8 percent are Black and 8 percent are Latino. Twenty years ago, Black students made up almost 40 percent of the school’s population. Many Brooklyn Tech alumni are troubled by the current low percentage.
Approximately 200 alumni met with administrators on Jan. 20 to discuss what the school is doing to address the issue of racism.
DiversityInc received a comment last week on the story”NYC Schools’ Blatant Racial Discrimination Against Black & Latino Students,” in which a Brooklyn Tech alum shared his thoughts on how much the school has changed:
#BlackInBrooklynTech Open Letter:
The last time I was at Tech was in 2010 for a class reunion, and the demographical imbalance of the Tech student body is astounding; it simply slaps one in the face the moment one enters the building. The current milieu in terms of racial composition at Tech is now clearly quite different from the one I was immersed in during the 80’s and 90’s. Change is good, but not all changes benefit everyone in an equitable fashion.I could not help but smile encouragingly to the few black and brown faces I saw in the classrooms and hallways there. They, in turn, seemed so darned happy to see me. As if to say, ‘How did you make it through this’ They looked like they were walking in a minefield. I often wondered how these kids were faring.
Black Student Union members have met with high school Superintendent Karen Watts andprincipal Randy Asher, who said he will enforce mandatory sensitivity training for teachers.
There are eight specialized high schools in New York City. Brooklyn Tech is considered one of the “Big 3.” Entrance to specialized high schools is only gained through passing the Specialized High School Aptitude Test (SHSAT).
In March, the NYC Education Department released statistics of students earning acceptance into these competitive schools. Out of 5,103 students offered acceptance, 5 percent were Black and 7 percent were Latino, while 52 percent were Asian and 28 percent were white. Civil rights activists have opposed the SHSAT, even filing a complaint in 2012 with the U.S. Department of Education.
NYCMayor Bill de Blasio said although he’s in support of modifying the admissions at the specialized high schools to create more diversity, it would take a change in state law. His sonDante is a graduate ofBrooklyn Tech.