Response to hate speech

Lauren Cervantes, Reporter

“The next day, I was scared to go to school. I was scared that I was going to get targeted, and maybe something [bad] was going to happen,” sophomore Zahara Scray said, after discovering the words “I hate blacks” written on her desk during her fifth period AP physics class.  

Other students of color reported feeling similarly, Principal Andrea Markert said.

 “The students that I heard from, that were black, told me that they were nervous about coming to school,” Markert said. 

While the idea of school was unnerving, some students, Markert noted, returned to stand up to the act of hate. 

After discovering the writing, Scray said she was “in shock” and decided to text her parents, who encouraged her to disclose the information to the administration. 

“At first my reaction was that I was really mad about it, but [thought]: I’ll just let it be,” Scray said. “My parents were really the ones that influenced me to reach out about it. Especially my dad. My dad is my hero. A lot of the time, he really helps me when there’s stuff that just shouldn’t be. Because sometimes I struggle to see it at first.” 

After learning of the incident, teachers, administrators, and the Student Diversity Committee jumped into action. 

Mark Jedele, the teacher of Scray’s fifth period AP physics class, described how disturbing the discovery was.

“I got chills and I just felt a lot of fear and regret, just the absurdity that this would have been written, by a student in my classroom,” Jedele said, “Then, I just wanted it gone. My very first reaction was to erase it. I immediately got rid of it.” In retrospect, Jedele realized it would have been helpful to preserve the evidence, even though photos had been taken to share with administration and police.

Principal Andrea Markert contacted ISU police immediately in response to what she called, “an act of hate.”

In addition to contacting the police and filing a report, the administration has been continually meeting with the police, informing and meeting with parents and students, calling the Student Diversity Committee together, attending student-led restorative circles, and speaking with the NAACP. 

Additionally, the administration plans to implement security cameras throughout the school in hopes of inhibiting harmful behavior and ensuring the general safety of U-High students. 

The Student Diversity Committee, which had already been working to bring awareness to and combat discrimination at U-High, has been discussing ways to respond to the incident. 

“[We] put together a couple subcommittees to tackle the issue in different ways,” Student Diversity Committee student ambassador Emma Bottomley said. “We’ve been talking about [doing] a public display of some sort where we can share with the student body what we’ve been working on so people feel less in the dark about what’s been going on,” Bottomley said. “I know the biggest frustration right now is not knowing what punishment is being given, or whether or not this is a preventable issue. We think it is. It is a matter of education and making sure that the student body knows we are doing something about it.” 

Sophomore Mayaih Russell read a statement on behalf of Student Diversity Committee the morning of April 21 denouncing the act of hate and calling for students to hold one another accountable to community and “rally behind those affected.”  

The potential consequences of a Level III offense such as this, Markert said, are detailed in the Student Handbook and include in school suspension, out of school suspension, and expulsion. 

But that will not be satisfactory for all students. 

“Some people just need reassurance that they are safe whereas others need to see some radical change happen,” Bottomley said.

This is not the first time an act of racism has occurred at U-High and sadly, it probably will not be the last. 

“I know there has been a reputation of U-High to not necessarily seem like a place that fully supports equity and diversity, and it’s been something that, especially this senior class, has put a lot of effort into making strives to amend,” Jedele said. “I’ve seen it twice now. The confederate flag last year and the example this year. Those are the only two macroscopic examples, but I am sure there have been plenty of microaggressions that have occurred. So, no it doesn’t surprise me in that regard and I don’t think it’s the last time that it’s going to happen. It’s evident that it’s still present, so why would I expect it to be cured?” 

While it is not likely hate will stop immediately, it will never be tolerated at U-High. 

“This was an act of hate and we don’t stand for hate and it is not acceptable in any way whatsoever,” Markert said. “It’s not going to be tolerated and it never will be tolerated and we are going to continue to work hard to make sure that people are held accountable.” 

“I kind of unfortunately, was a little unsurprised,” Bottomley said. “I think people at this school may feel a little bit too safe when they are supported by their peers in doing things like that. If you witness your peers doing something like that or saying something like that, you have an obligation to report it even if you don’t want to snitch or whatever. We don’t tolerate that.” 

Sadly, some U-High students have become accustomed to acts of hate. 

”I wish that people would notice that it’s more serious than what they’re taking it to be,” Scary said. “Because the way that a lot of, especially other black students, [reacted] is, ‘stuff like that always happens,’ [or] ‘It’s just kind of like that, oh well.’ They kind of down play it, and I get that,” she said. “It is something that’s written on a desk, but that’s how it starts and next thing you know, we have a hate crime committed. So, I feel like people should take this situation a little bit more seriously than how they are right now.” 

Jedele will be making changes in his classroom to further enforce the value of acceptance.

“I just need to make it more clear to my students what equality looks like in a classroom and what types of biases they may come into class with and let them know that there are certain opinions that are not appropriate,” Jedele said. “While I encourage open communication they have to understand that there is a difference between having a contrary opinion and one that is inappropriate and unfair.”

The Student Diversity Committee has and will continue to equip its members with tools to handle situations of discrimination and prejudice within the school. 

“We went through Restorative Circle training,” Bottomley said. “Getting the opportunity to talk to professionals at the [Muhamad] Ali center, certainly gave us tools to be able to address things like this and it also gave a lot of us the autonomy that we needed to handle issues where not everything is in our hands, but it did give us the empowerment to know that we can make a change.”

While everyone involved in responding to this incident did so quickly and with compassion, both Jedele and Markert apologized.

“I am sorry that this particular event took place in a space that I am trying to create as a safe and equal space for all students,” Jedele said. 

Markert’s message to the students affected by this incident was this: “I want them to know that I am so sorry that they have to feel unsafe in our school environment and that we are working really hard to make sure that everyone feels safe in the school environment, and I truly just am very sorry that they have to come to school everyday feeling like that.”

“Luckily everything was fine and I was okay,” Scray said. “We did have a restorative circle about it and luckily there were enough resources at U-High to make me feel more comfortable.”