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A Letter from Poly Students to the Administration

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A Letter from Poly Students to the Administration

Polygon Staff

Polygon Staff

Polygon Staff

Seniors Jeovanna deShong-Connor and Talisha Ward, leaders of Umoja, the black student affinity group, organized the Martin Luther King, Jr. Assembly on Friday, January 18. They took the opportunity to respond to a recent incident where a racist video involving current students was spread among the wider student body. They read aloud a letter to the administration reprinted below.

Head of School Audrius Barzdukas responded to the letter saying, “I support them and applaud the courage of their convictions and the action they are taking on those convictions. I want to engage them in a dialogue about their letter and plan to make myself available to all students on Wednesday at 2:00 in the library. I believe we all want the same thing: a more just, inclusive, supportive, and healthy environment for every student, especially those students who have felt hurt and disenfranchised.”

After the letter was read, deShong-Connor and Ward invited the student body, most dressed in all black, to move into the hallways and participate in a sit-in. During the sit-in, students stapled post-its to bulletin boards along the walls, naming the changes they want to see in the school.

When asked why she organized this protest, deShong-Connor said, “I’ve spent thirteen years here. I don’t want any of y’all to have to question whether or not this is your school or if you have a home here. Some people haven’t been here long enough to have that experience. Younger people are blind to that sort of thing, and I wanted to open their minds.” 

-Evangeline Bilger and Emily Weinstein, Online Managing Editors 

Administration,

We stand here today humbled by the task before us. Being granted the opportunity to lead members of the student body during such a tumultuous time is a privilege. On January 11, 2019, members of our community were exposed to a video in which white female students were seen making monkey gestures and noises while wearing blackface. It is a racist video and we are offended. This is not an isolated incident. In my time at Poly, not one year has gone by without an event rooted in racial intolerance and prejudice. While we acknowledge that the current administration has made efforts to address the video, they have not done enough; their repeated lack of action has contributed to an unsafe learning environment.

Despite Poly’s mission “to prepare and inspire the next diverse generation of leaders and global citizens to act with intelligence, imagination and—above all—character,” we do not place enough focus on cultivating the values of our students. Left to experience our peers’ continued disregard of our humanity, students of color question why our administration fails to take a clear stance against their behavior.

Today, we gather in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we cannot echo the sentiment of “I have a dream…” because we are no longer hopeful that change will come without student action. We feel unwelcome in a space where we are supposed to grow not only academically, but emotionally and socially. We feel uncomfortable in our own halls, in our own classes, and on our own campus with our so-called peers.

It has reached the point where we believe that only radical action can defeat this trend of hatred at Poly for “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We are asking for the following:

— For the administration, faculty, and student body to view the situation as what it is: the most recent in a series of racist and intolerable acts that have alienated a large portion of Poly’s community rather than as an isolated event.

— For a public apology from the girls who participated in the video and the making thereof.

— For acknowledgment that the school has not taken steps to protect students of color in this latest episode

— For an email sent out to parents, students, and alumni clearly addressing the content of the video (specifying that it was blackface) as well as what steps are being taken to ensure that incidents like this do not happen again.

— For the implementation of a required civics/ethics/empathy course(s).

— For more faculty of color to help and support us.

— For a new section of the Poly Code of Conduct which specifically addresses hateful actions and hateful speech, whether it takes place on or off campus.

— For a greater emphasis and employment of our zero-tolerance policy.

— For equal repercussions for all students that violate policy and no statute of limitations for those violations.

If you support any or all of the demands listed above, please stand. We ask of those who are going to participate in the sit in only to do so because you believe in what we are asking for.

Today we are not doing a moment of silence. We have been silent for too long.

About the Writers
Elena Diaz, Opinions Editor

Elena Diaz '19 is the current Opinions Editor of The Polygon. She became the Opinions Editor and began writing for the Polygon in the spring of her sophomore...

Keyna Mecias, Copy Editor

Keyna Mecias ‘19 is the current Copy Editor of the Polygon. She began writing for Polygon her freshman year. In addition to Polygon, Keyna spends her...

7 Comments

7 Responses to “A Letter from Poly Students to the Administration”

  1. Polyglot writers on January 18th, 2019 2:19 pm

    Beautifully written article, Emily!

  2. Prudence on January 18th, 2019 6:33 pm

    Thank you Umoja. You are everything that’s right with the world. Sending my love and support to all of you wonderful students.

  3. Donna Hurley on January 19th, 2019 2:51 pm

    Thank you for an apt tribute to Dr. King. Thank you for exercising your civil rights. Your silent sit in spoke volumes.

  4. John Dumey on January 19th, 2019 5:36 pm

    I want the brave young women and men of Umoja, and all the kids of color at Poly to know that there are many alumni who stand behind them. Much love and much respect for your strength in the face of such disturbing behavior. Some of your peers need to do better. And many of the adults, including parents and certainly including administration need to be better.

    Thank you for showing us the way.

    John Dumey
    Poly ’97

  5. Anthony Rivera on January 20th, 2019 6:54 am

    I’m echoing John’s statement above. He put it better than I could have and want to give my support as an alum.

    Anthony Rivera
    Poly ’97

  6. Jay Brown on January 20th, 2019 10:26 am

    Your response to this unfortunate event is inspiring. Several Southern Brooklyn community-based groups operating in the area where Poly Prep is located, including but not limited to Fight Back Bay Ridge and South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance, have been actively discussing this situation. We’d like the students of Umoja and its student allies to know we fully support your efforts and would like to amplify your message, as well as provide support in any other manner your student-led movement feels would be productive. Fight Back Bay Ridge & South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance can be most easily contacted via Facebook.

    We also invite any interested students who are available on Martin Luther King Day to join the MLK Jr Day March Against Racism being held in Bay Ridge. The event is sponsored/endorsed by nearly 20 Brooklyn organizations and local elected officials will be participating.
    https://www.facebook.com/events/294410707932941/?ti=cl

  7. Suzanne M on January 21st, 2019 11:54 pm

    Beautifully Written Evangeline Bilger and Emily Weinstein!!

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