Racism Column Sparks Tensions

James Fuller, Daily Herald (Chicago), Mar. 19

Black students at Wheaton North High School say they’re outraged about an opinion piece in the school newspaper that called Black History Month racist against whites.

School officials, who denounced the publication of the column, said it sparked racial tension in the school and brought to light the need for diversity and sensitivity training for all students.

Junior Latina Adams and seniors La Toya Jones and Brittaney Walton said they were shocked and upset about the column, which was written by a 15-year-old sophomore and appeared in this month’s issue of the Falcon Flyer under the headline, “Racism . . . Against White People?”

The column slams Black History Month as promoting racism against whites when they try to get jobs or apply to colleges.

“Black History Month is a good idea . . . but why are African-Americans the only ones honored with a month about their history?” the column said in part. “Caucasian Americans are not being accepted into the college of their dreams because a less qualified minority has taken their place.”

The column was published after being reviewed by faculty adviser Jeff Potter. He could not be reached for comment but did explain his reasoning to principal Jill Bullo.

Bullo said Potter told her that the article was labeled an opinion piece and, right or wrong, he believed the author was entitled to her opinion.

“He has since come to realize what a huge error in judgment it was,” Bullo said. “It was inappropriate to put it in our paper. There should not be any articles in the school paper that disrupt the learning environment, and this, in fact, did.”

It did more than that, said Adams, Jones and Walton.

Besides being angered by the content of the piece, the students said the article was an example of what they view as a string of recent racist incidents.

The students said that a picture of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, posted at the school for Black History Month, was defaced with a racial epithet.

They also said a black female student was confronted by a white female student with the words “white power.” Adams said someone stuck a copy of the newspaper column in the slot of her locker to make sure Adams read it.

Bullo said she never saw the Jackson picture and only learned of the defacing after the column came out. All photos for Black History Month came down at the end of February.

Friday, more than 20 students held a meeting with Potter during which he apologized for allowing the piece to be published, said Bullo, who was present.

At the meeting, a student group was formed to write a response to the column and clarify some of what Bullo called its factual inaccuracies.

“It was a very heartfelt apology and the kids were very appreciative,” Bullo said.

She said two or three students did not accept the teacher’s apology, but that the majority of the students present “worked through their anger to the point where they’re going to be pro-active” in educating peers about the need for racial sensitivity.

The Rev. Andre Allen from Wheaton’s Second Baptist Church has also been invited to have a discussion with staff and students about tolerance and diversity, Bullo said.

Allen brought up the issue to Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 superintendent Gary Catalani at his State of the Schools address Thursday. Allen said he’s looking forward to turning a wrong into a positive lesson for everyone.

“All persons are in need of growth,” Allen said. “We can use this to grow.”

Catalani said he was particularly disappointed in the oversight of the paper and the decision to run the column.

“I apologize to the entire community,” Catalani said. “The article itself is inappropriate. It never should have made it into the paper.”

Bullo said it will take time to mend tension between the races, but parents will be asked to support the effort.

“I cannot fix this in a day, or in a week,” she said. “The kids do not necessarily feel connected to the school. Up to this week, I did not have that feeling.”

Bullo said the blame for the column should be on school officials, not its author.

“She’s still just a kid,” Bullo said. “We erred in printing it.”

The author’s mother said her daughter “had not intended to offend anyone” and was “regretful of the way it’s been interpreted.”

Adams, Jones and Walton all said they’d be happy with an apology from both Potter and the author as long as they also have a chance to write a response to the column.

“We don’t want to retaliate. We just want to voice our opinion,” Jones said. “We want to know how someone could say something like that without having gotten to know us. We’re part of history just like you. We came from being as low as dirt up to where you are.”

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