As recent protests over police brutality have taken place across the nation, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has amassed a huge following, including students at Francis Lewis High School. A particular exception has been a previous incident that occurred at Francis Lewis, which has recently gone viral on social media, involving a student spurring racist and derogatory slurs in the student cafeteria.
In response, Francis Lewis students wrote a formal letter to the administration, also known as “Address the Hate.”
According to the letter, demands by Francis Lewis students include: “A plan of action for combating bigotry and prejudice, school wide assemblies addressing hate speech, and a space that specializes in reporting and addressing such issues.”
“We encourage these demands to be met as soon as possible,” the letter says. “As a school community we must educate and learn how to respect one another. To be silent is to be complicit, especially at a time where racism is being fought on a global scale.”
Students interviewed by FLHS News also expressed their own vision for what Francis Lewis can do to further this cause.
“I think the school administration should acknowledge racism and teach students what certain groups of people go through,” senior Megan Bell said. “We should teach students to think before they speak, think about why they have certain biases, and help them realize why it is wrong.”
Principal Dr. Marmor issued a statement in response to the letter.
“I have been the principal of Francis Lewis for seven years, and in that time I have never ignored or failed to act on any case where a student has been the target of racism, bullying, or discrimination,” Dr. Marmor said. “That being said, I hear you very clearly and agree with you; there is a fundamental and underlying culture of hate and intolerance that exists in our school, and it must not be tolerated.”
According to Dr. Marmor’s response, a plan of action “will include (among other things), professional development on implicit bias, courageous conversations and teaching tolerance.” Additionally, the school will be organizing assemblies, “starting with 3 open forums where students can be heard.” There will also be “in-class workshops addressing hate speech and micro/macro aggressions.”
“I take full ownership over not having created the school culture whereby students witnessing these hurtful (racist) acts, would not only feel completely comfortable coming forward, but would feel obligated to do so,” Dr. Marmor said.
FLHS News interviewed students for their thoughts on the incident.
“From the recent events of what we witnessed about a student from our school, I believe that something has to be done,” sophomore Julianne Rayne said. “I don’t think the student should be punished badly, but instead he should be helped so that he won’t make the same mistake in the future and for other students as well to follow his actions.”
“I wish I could say I was shocked by what I saw, but unfortunately, that is not the case,” Bell said. “At the very least, I think the college he is planning on attending should be notified of the incident, and he should be mandated to take courses regarding racism and bias.”
The Student Organization (S.O.) also released an official statement, which can be found on the Francis Lewis High School website (http://www.francislewishs.org/).
“We do not condone this unacceptable behavior and it is not a reflection of what we represent as the Student Organization and as a school community,” said the S.O. “As leaders of the student population, we understand our role in creating and maintaining an inclusive school culture, and that means fighting hatred every step of the way.”
Some students interviewed feel that all students involved should be held responsible.
“I think the students who were involved in the incident, encouraging the student who was yelling racial slurs, should also be recognized as they were the ones influencing the student to do those actions,” sophomore Hope Ki said. “Just because they themselves were not saying the racial slurs does not mean that it was okay for them to encourage the student into saying them. Instead, they should have told him to stop.”
Francis Lewis students also shared how they feel about the school’s diversity and environment.
“As far as the learning environment goes, I think it is fair and non-discriminatory,” junior Jordanne Gibson said. “I have not experienced any racism except for minor comments from a few uneducated people. But as a whole, I feel like the school is pretty accepting of many racial backgrounds.”
Other students offered a similar perspective.
“I feel like I am always welcome at different activities in FLHS,” junior Vanessa Khachaturyan said. “However, I acknowledge my existing privilege and I cannot speak for everyone else. While I have always experienced a non-discriminatory environment at Francis Lewis, I am not sure that can be said for all students.”
As Francis Lewis addresses this issue, students remain hopeful that the school community will continue to learn and adapt from this and previous incidents.
“While the history of our (racist) past is terrible and horrific, we have to embrace it and learn from its mistakes to make sure these same mistakes never happen again,” Khachaturyan said. “I believe we seriously need to reimagine the education system in the United States and address all the historical atrocities for what they are, and we need to have a much more inclusive version of history which teaches us the importance of minorities in the history of the U.S.”