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.