Backyard white supremacy: Central Pa. high school students take to social media to fight racism in the classroom | Thursday Morning Coffee

January 28, 2021 7:40 am

Image via WikiMedia Commons)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If you’ve heard of Biglerville, Pa., it might well be because you’ve passed signs for it on your way to the Gettysburg battlefield in rural Adams County. A stone’s throw from the Maryland state line, the tiny borough of just 1,222 people is also home to the National Apple Museum. Adams County, after all, is apple and stone fruit country.

But now, it’s known for something else: Impassioned students who are taking to social media to hit back at what they say is decades of institutional racism. And they want school officials to take immediate action.

Last week, students created Racism at Biglerville High School InstagramTwitter, and Facebook accounts, according to a statement provided through the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, an LGBTQ advocacy and civil rights group.

“Racist expressions, taunts, threats, and physical violence have been a regular and unchecked staple of the Biglerville High School community for generations,” the group said in its statement. “The punishment for the white students perpetrating the violence and harassment, if any, has been noted as extremely lenient. Black and brown students were often blamed or criminalized for the violence they experienced.”

In its statement, the group included anonymously sourced tales of the racism and harassment that students of color said they experienced at the school. To put it bluntly, they’re heartbreaking.

You can read some of them after the jump.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by @racismatbhs

  • “Two boys on the bus yelled “Go back to where you came from, N*****!”. They only got in-school suspension for two days.”
  • “I was in gym class and I missed the ball. A student said, ‘f***ing dumb*ss n*****!’ I knew both gym teachers heard it and they did nothing to help me. I told another teacher it happened but nothing was done about it. I felt different from everyone else, like I was alone in a room full of peers.”
  • “They got my phone number and kept calling me, saying things like ‘Go pick some apples.’ They said ‘Mexicans have no dads.’ It really hurt me inside, because I don’t have a dad around. I used to think I didn’t have a dad because I was Mexican.”
  • “A 10-year old girl received a video message from a peer saying, ‘Shut up you stupid Mexican and go back to your own country, b***h.'”
  • “A group of white students last year posed for a photo with enthusiastic smiles with a sign that read “Black Lives DO NOT Matter.” One of those students is now majoring in Criminal Justice at a nearby public university. Because this behavior has been celebrated and not held accountable by Biglerville High School, the next generation of police and victim services might continue to have employees who believe Black lives do not matter.”

One student, speaking anonymously, recounted the impact these statements and behavior had on them.

“I was never helped by the administration when I was being harassed by racially motivated white students. I had to fight them for them to stop harassing me, and then I was the one punished,” the student said in the statement. “The teachers told me I would never get into college now that I had to fight, and told me my life was already over. I believed them. They allowed white students to break me down because I was black and then blamed me for surviving.”

Biglerville High School is as tiny as its hometown. The school has just 500 students, about 70 percent of whom are white, 27 percent Latinx (the area has a large migrant worker population), and 1 percent Black, the group said, citing U.S. Department of Education demographic data.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by @racismatbhs

In their statement, the group, which also includes alumni, said they’ve faced harassment for speaking up. The harassment, which includes the group being sent a photo of George Floyd’s body as he lay dying, is as horrifying and disgusting as the racist attacks they catalogued.

The student group has issued a list of demands for change. It includes:

  • “[Issuing] a zero tolerance policy against racism for all students, student athletes, staff, teachers, and administrators.
  • “[Implementing] harsh minimum punishments for students that racially target their peers and kick them off sports teams.
  • “[Issuing] a public apology to the students of color officials failed to protect and the community they were supposed to educate, including admitting what has taken place.
  • “[Drafting] a new code of conduct with SPECIFIC policies against racial and cultural discrimination.
  • “[Firing] staff responsible for active promotion of white supremacy at any point in history, and hold specific staff accountable because of their negligence to protect students of color from discrimination and racial targeting.

In a statement released to PennLiveWesley Doll, superintendent of the Upper Adams School District, which includes the high school, said: “We take the concerns of our community very seriously and do not tolerate racist behavior in any form, nor do we condone the behaviors that have been shared recently on various social media accounts. The experiences described do not reflect our school district’s values. As a school committed to diversity, inclusion and creating a safe environment free of bullying, we are looking further into this matter.”

One can’t help but wonder if they would have if these students hadn’t raised their voices in the first place.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
State lawmakers are advancing a $912 million COVID-19 relief package that includes $145 million in assistance to bars and restaurants hit by the pandemic, Stephen Caruso reports. It passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, and could get a vote in the House next week.

President Joe Biden has paused oil and gas leases on public land as part of a sweeping effort to fight climate change. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa has the details.

Wednesday was Holocaust Remembrance DayAssociate Editor Cassie Miller has curated a suite of stories on this somber day of remembrance. They include this look at how the day was observed in the state House. And a new report grades social media platforms on their efforts to tackle misinformation. And from our our partners at The Conversation, here are five reads to expand your own understanding of the Nazi genocide.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Lloyd E. Sheaffer says he’d like to see a return to the Three T’s in our politics: Truth, trust, and thoughtfulness. And U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th Districtcame closer than you think to stealing the election for Donald Trump, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz writes.

(Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, an emergency department physician at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, receives Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Mon., 12/14/20)

For workers who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, the rollout has been ‘confusing and high stakes,’ the Inquirer reports.
A constitutional amendment limiting a governor’s emergency powers is one vote away from the statewide ballot, the Associated Press reports (via the Post-Gazette).
Children are still susceptible to COVID-19, and can suffer long-term after-effectsPennLive reports.
The Morning Call rounds up reader reaction to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s, R-Pa., vote against dismissing the impeachment count against former President Donald Trump.
Educators in Luzerne County, who are included in an expanded first round, are now getting their vaccinations, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Officials in Fayette County, meanwhile, say they’re ready to vaccinate teachers when those doses arrive, the Herald-Standard reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by tom bush iv (@wvubush)

The York Daily Record updates on efforts to fix glitches in the state’s unemployment program amid the pandemic.
WHYY-FM tries to explain why Philadelphia entrusted a vaccine program to a student group that had no health care experience.
Spotlight PA talks to experts who are worried about a bill changing the way Pennsylvania elects its appellate judges (via WITF-FM).
Erie’s food bank is bearing the brunt of the pandemic, GoErie reports.
State Superior Court Judge Carolyn Nichols is launching a Democratic candidacy for state Supreme Court, PoliticsPA reports. explains why public health systems still aren’t ready for the next pandemic.
Roll Call talks to Capitol Hill staffers who are dealing with PTSD after the Capitol attack.

What Goes On.
The House State Government Committee holds another hearing, this one at 1 p.m., as it continues its inquisition of the 2020 election.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
We’re correcting a terrible oversight this morning. Belated best wishes go out this morning to Erik Arneson, in the office of state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, who hit a milestone birthday on Wednesday; Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Julia Terruso, and to reader Megan Lehman, at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection — all of whom celebrated on Wednesday, and were left out of this newsletter. Maxima mea culpa. Best wishes all around, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s something a little dance-y for your Thursday morning. It’s Roosevelt, and ‘Under the Sun.’ We don’t know about you, but we could use it today.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford abruptly resigned Wednesday
citing personal reasons. Rutherford helped lead the Pens to two Stanley Cups. Assistant GM Park Allvin will fly the plane while the team searches for a permanent replacement.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.