Backyard white supremacy: Central Pa. high school students take to social media to fight racism in the classroom | Thursday Morning Coffee
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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“ Instagram, Twitter, 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.
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- “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.
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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 PennLive, Wesley 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.
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John L. Micek