Students, Staff and Trustees Pledge to Fight Racism After Graffiti Found
Students, staff and Board of Education trustees pledged at Tuesday's board meeting to bring an end to the racism which led to a racist slur being scrawled on a bathroom wall at Saline High School.
Pictures of the "n-word" written on a tiled bathroom wall in Saline High School quickly circulated through the community last week and earlier this week.
Theresa Stager, principal at the high school, called the events “unsettling,” adding “We do take steps to address these things immediately once they’re brought to our attention and located.”
Stager said an initial measure will be monitoring bathrooms more closely.
“In addition to following up on reported incidents, we’re taking additional steps to proactively check the bathrooms throughout the day,” she said. “Due to student privacy concerns, no cameras in bathrooms, we may not be able to pinpoint a responsible party 100 percent of the time, but we are paying attention to trends and continuing to follow all disciplinary guidelines when the individuals can be identified.”
Stager stressed that families should also discuss such matters amongst themselves and reiterate the necessity of mutual respect for all.
“This trend is not only disheartening, but goes against the core values of our school community. We also recognize the pivotal role families play in shaping the attitudes and behaviors of our students, so we kindly ask for community support in this matter,” she said. “And please take some time to talk to your child about these issues, discussing the importance of respect, empathy and the impact of your actions on others.”
Every student should feel safe while attending school, Stager said, and such incidents severely compromise that goal for those impacted.
During public comment, high school senior Bella Rodriguez shared some of her encounters with racism in the district and said they have negatively impacted her in multiple ways.
“Those experiences have left an immeasurable mark on my understanding of the world and my place in it. It’s crucial to recognize that racism in any form is not only hurtful but also has a profound impact in the educational environment,” she said. “When students face discrimination, whether overt or subtle, it affects their mental health, self-esteem and their academic performance.”
Rodriguez called on the board to bolster diversity and inclusion education, cultural competency training, more representation of minorities across district functions, as well as a continued open dialogue with students.
High school junior Aliyah Corrao-Taylor also addressed the board following Rodriguez’s remarks, calling for stricter punishments for those exhibiting racist behavior, as well as stronger educational requirements for perpetrators to help ensure they will not act in such a way again.
As in the case of the racist graffiti, Corrao-Taylor said she hopes both the vandalism and racism of the act will be punished separately, as they are different offenses.
“You’re not only writing on the wall, but you’re writing a racial slur, so you should receive two punishments for that,” she said.
Corrao-Taylor also suggested surveying students of all backgrounds more often to get a better sense of what they are experiencing day-to-day in terms of discriminatory behaviors.
“I know it’s not just black students at Saline High School who experience it, it is Latinas, it is Asians, it is Arabs, it is every race experiences something,” she said.
Superintendent Steve Laatsch pledged his support in bolstering the district’s response to such racist behavior and better supporting students who have felt its effects.
“On Oct. 18 I met with the Black Student Union at the high school to get feedback on their experiences at Saline High School. What I heard from the vast majority of attendants was that they’ve been supported by their teachers, administrators and for the most part the students, however they certainly did talk about the concerns of some continued racism at the high school,” he said. “And we spoke about the importance of creating a safe environment and the discussion of hate speech guidance and discriminatory language, and that we as an administration are working on strengthening that to be better supportive of our student body.”
Many school board members mirrored Laatsch’s sentiments. Trustee Lauren Gold stressed just how traumatic such incidents are on a school community and how seriously the situation must be taken.
“I think that it is really easy for those of us who haven’t experienced hate speech personally to see it as another form of people being mean, but really what It should be is an absolute sentinel event, a danger sign, a siren loud, stop what you’re doing and feel it and treat it with the same alarm as physical harm.”
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