On January 18th, 2019, members of the student body were tired of being silenced by administrators and peers who did not value their voices. Students and faculty alike were stunned by the circulation of a blackface video involving students who, at the time of the protest, were attending Poly. The video was filmed almost three years prior, but students were enraged to find out that while Poly’s administration penalized the student who spread the video, they passed a blind eye to the students involved in the creation of the video. Poly administrators openly promote “mind, body, and above all character” when addressing the student body in speeches, emails, and the like, but were not examples of how to apply these words to real-life situations.
Leaders of Umoja, Poly’s black affinity and alliance group, led last year’s assembly, listing out demands addressed to administrators and passionately entreating their peers to strive for unity. Finally, after declaring that they would no longer be silenced, students led a walkout from the Memorial Chapel to the surrounding hallways on the building’s first floor. For the entire morning, students filled the hallways in response to poor administrative decisions that damaged the unity of the community. It was hard to believe that Poly’s administration would quietly sweep away something as explicitly horrid as a blackface video, but that is what happened. Thus, it was justified that Poly’s students took action to ensure that justice would not be denied any longer.
During last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Assembly, members of Poly’s black community voiced their concerns and demanded positive change.
Senior Yashimabet Drummond said, “The sit-in was an amazing event for the student body, and especially the students of color. We stood up for what we believed and knew what was right. I was proud that I was apart of the grassroots of the entire movement suggesting the blackout. Finally, not only mine but the voices of those were hurt and recognized that there needed to be a change was heard.”
Senior Sade Greenridge said, “I did not feel as though peace and submissiveness were something I could provide given that my identity was not only being attacked in the real world but also in the institution I attend each day.” Greenridge presented the idea to walk out to replace the call for silence which concluded most Poly assemblies. She said, “Walking out to sit in the halls after being asked to prepare for a moment of silence was a reminder to all forms of ignorance that we would not be silenced until repercussions were presented, black bodies could feel safe again, and cultural/ethics courses were implemented to prohibit such atrocities from occurring ever again.”
Now, a year after the blackface incident at Poly, students examine the extent to which the demands of black students were met. During this year’s assembly in honor of Dr. King, student leaders of Lemonade and Umoja restated the demands from last year and determined whether or not they were met. While Poly did meet, at least in part, many of the demands, some loopholes still remain. It is still unclear whether Poly has taken measures to prevent a recurrence of this sort of incident. One major loophole is Poly’s failure to implement a required civics, ethics, and empathy course. The vast majority of the student body was under the impression that the newly instituted freshman Ethics and Leadership class, was a response to last year’s demands. The distinction between this course and the school’s diversity initiatives enacted in response to student demands was only recently clarified by Barzdukas and Maeagawa, along with numerous community forums. This disappointed members of the Poly community; not only because IfEL falls short of the protest demands, but also because this distinction was not stated clearly. Additionally, Poly has not implemented a zero-tolerance policy in regards to hateful speech and actions. While classes, especially English and history classes, have addressed this issue by strictly disallowing the use of the n-word, Poly has failed to explicitly address hateful speech and actions in its Code of Conduct. Such loopholes exemplify the need for greater change in Poly’s administration. Although there is progress towards greater unity and comfort within the Poly community, Poly still has a long way to go.
Senior Jendayi Leben-Martin, another co-leader of affinity group ‘Lemonade,’ said, “While I do feel like we have become more comfortable talking about race, we still have to work to ensure that Poly is a completely safe space for students of all identities. Moving forward from such an emotional experience, I think it’s important for us to remember the effect that our collective actions can have and the change that they can affect.”