Published Dec. 15, 2021
BY EMMA BROWN
Cases of racist language directed at both students and staff, both written via graffiti and spoken on campus, rose noticeably in October and November, prompting discussions at Carmel High School about diversity and inclusion as administrators focus on putting a stop to racism on campus.
Administrators were first made aware of cases of hate speech when custodians discovered graffiti in the boys’ restroom containing numerous inscriptions of a slur referencing African Americans, though more recently, the issue has extended to the use of LGBTQ descriptors in a derogatory manner. CHS assistant principal Debbi Puente details an incident of vandalism in which someone was keeping tallies with various derogatory terms on a wall in the boys’ restroom.
“Swastikas have recently been showing up in the bathroom too, being drawn in the stalls, though before, they were primarily being written on other people’s papers,” Puente says.
In October, a CHS cafeteria worker also reported a student referring to her with an anti-Asian slur.
Administrators target prevention, education
Because cases of hate speech have remained, for the most part, localized to the boys’ restroom, administrators and campus supervisors have been monitoring bathrooms in hopes of both discouraging any future acts of vandalism, as well as catching the student or students responsible for the graffiti. Due to staffing limitations, cameras have been placed outside the entrance to some restrooms, which record all students entering and exiting the building.
“The cameras are meant to give us a time frame of when incidents occur,” CHS assistant principal Craig Tuana says. “However, breaks make that difficult. We’re trying to look and see the common faces that are continuously going into the bathroom.”
Administrators have also called upon students to report any derogatory comments or vandalism they see, either through WeTip, an anonymous tip line, or directly to the assistant principals, encouraging “upstander behavior” among the student body.
“If you see something and you don’t do anything at all, then you’re part of the problem,” Puente says.
Puente and Tuana made presentations to English classes of all grade levels at the beginning of November, discussing what acts had transpired, punishment for those responsible and paths forward. During class presentations, administrators also discussed the possibility of establishing a student-led task force to combat the issue on campus, though to date no group has been formed.
“This is a situation where we need to figure out what the right message is, and who the right messengers are,” CHS principal Jon Lyons says. “That may require us to get some outside resources to come in and work with us, rather than deal with it internally, due to the ethnic makeup of our school. That’s not to say that hate speech is an ethnic only issue, but rather that the voices discussing this issue should be a diverse group of people.”
In regard to the cause of the incidents, the consensus among administrators is that media stimuli has impacted what students believe and view as acceptable behavior.
“If students are left to their own devices at home, I don’t know what they’re looking up or what they’re doing, what they think is or isn’t acceptable,” Tuana explains. “During quarantine, parents had to work, and kids weren’t getting that outside influence of what’s acceptable. I don’t want to blame the internet, I think that students just weren’t getting that reminder of what behavior is okay when they were isolated.”
Hate speech is punishable by suspension, potentially resulting in an expulsion depending on the severity of the incident.
Students encourage peers to re-evaluate behavior
During presentations by administrators, some students gazed at each other in horror as incidents of hate speech were relayed.
“It was startling to hear that there was enough of a presence in our school of people who feel so hateful that this has become a problem,” junior Owen Shirrell says.
Students have offered criticism of administrators’ response as well, many citing the presentations as impersonal and ineffective approaches to solving a larger issue.
“The presentations weren’t powerful enough to change anyone’s opinion,” senior Eva Guerre says. “It was aimed at the wrong audience. If the stuff is only happening in the boys’ bathroom, just talk to the boys. It’ll be more impactful.”
Students explain that in order to address the issue of hate speech, education on the history of racism needs to be delivered in a manner that appeals to the emotions of teenagers. For instance, senior Nina Robertson describes watching documentaries in other classes, such as AP Environmental Science, and the impact they had.
“The administration should present information about using derogatory terms in a way like that,” Robertson says. “Information delivered in that manner really packs a punch.”
Other students have likened the recent hate speech cases to the spur ofsexual assault and harassment accusations that arose last March, detailing alleged cases of the administration’s mishandling of reports.
“The administration is just trying to save face,” junior Maddie Gallagher says, “and if that’s the driving force behind them wanting to solve this problem, nothing is going to change.”
Some students propose that implementing greater education on the history of prejudice would be a step in the right direction.
“People don’t understand the gravity of what they’re saying,” freshman Stella Nuñez says. “They might be saying these things as a joke because they don’t understand the history behind it. We should educate these people so they really know what they’re saying when they put something on a bathroom stall.”
Recently, a group of students formed the Ethnic Awareness Club, though the mission of the group stands independent of the recent hate speech cases.
Administrators, students move forward
The message from students to the perpetrators is clear: Stop.
“I just want to see students change,” sophomore Taylan Dincer says. “ I want them to be scared of the consequences, but I also want them to not be a bad person due to morality, not simply consequence. Things might not change much, though.”
Despite administrative efforts, the offenders have yet to be caught, an issue which CHS admin attributes to a lack of manpower. Moving forward, the principals also plan to receive input from external sources, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and students in order to better educate themselves on how to proceed in this circumstance.
“You can’t be arrogant about this sort of thing and say, ‘I’m supposed to know all the answers,’” Lyons says. “If I don’t know the answer, let’s find someone who’s had some experience here, whether it’s an outside organization from a professional development standpoint or an analysis of what we’re seeing on our campus. The good news is that there’s energy and people who want to create change.”
Students are encouraged to report any information to administrators on any new occurrences of hate-motivated vandalism, as well as any knowledge of the perpetrator’s identity.