West Linn High School students hold rally amidst rumors of verbal abuse

While protesters in Portland continued their rampage through city streets this past week, students at West Linn High School joined together for a demonstration of their own, following rumors of racism and bullying within the school’s walls.

Organized by the school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) — the school’s student council representing goals and interests of the student body — approximately 300 students gathered in front of the school Monday, Nov. 15 to bring issues of overt bigotry to the forefront in a peaceful manner. Students hoisted signs that said “Love conquers hate,” and “Progress has no color,” among others, while various students took turns sharing their own experiences with racism and bullying within the school.

Students of varied race, religion and sexual orientations spoke about reports of verbal attacks on Muslim and Latino students, including being called “terrorists” and illegals” in addition to written graffiti with racial slurs on school grounds.

Senior Rameen Ali told the audience she felt in danger coming school during the past week, and pleaded with classmates to hold each other accountable to eliminate hurtful insults and threats in the future.TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Approximately 300 students gathered in front of the school to promote unity and togetherness Monday, Nov. 14.

“My whole life I’ve gotten looks when I go into Fred Meyer, or a coffee shop, or anywhere else. But every time I walk into (West Linn High School) I feel safe and welcome,” Ali told her peers. “But this past week I’ve had my mom calling me after a late night Yearbook session asking me if Mr. Krake walked me to my car, and I’ve been given pepper spray and taught how to use it because of all this. School has always been a safe place for me because I’m a good student, and I want that to remain the case.”

ASB President Tristan Waits said issues of racism, sexism and bullying at West Linn High School aren’t necessarily new, but that they’ve been heightened since the Presidential election last Tuesday.TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Senior Associated Student Body President Tristan Waits addresses the crowd.

“There has been more of this outright racism in the wake of the election, but there’s definitely been a tone of racism that’s affected me throughout my career, and other kids’ careers at West Linn High School,” Waits said. “In the past it hasn’t been so outright or as blatant as calling a Muslim girl a terrorist or a Latino student an illegal, but it’s definitely been something that’s gone on both minor and right in your face. It felt like (a demonstration) was needed to bring everyone together and realize we’re all underneath the same umbrella.”

Waits said the walkout demonstration was less about the election and more about students’ recent actions within the school. Despite the nature of the demonstration, he said Monday’s walkout was meant to be a positive protest, and that it’s just a jumping off point. ASB is also planning a “unity week” to further address persisting issues in the future.TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Students signed unity posters pledging their oath to preventing bullying and bigotted actions in West Linn High School.

“We don’t want anyone to feel unsafe. We want everyone to feel like they have a place in our school,” said sophomore Wallace Milner. “Today isn’t a political thing — I can’t stress this enough. These issues are not Republican issues, they’re not Democrat issues, these are basic human issues.”

ASB coordinated the walkout demonstration with West Linn High School administration, who watched the walkout from a distance while teachers remained within the building to be with students who wished to stay in class.

Administrators said they couldn’t discuss any student discipline or specific incidents, but Principal Kevin Mills said the school constantly promotes student unity and inclusiveness.

“We wanted to ensure that all our students were safe and had a positive experience during this peaceful demonstration, which is why we had adult supervision outside and teachers who continued instruction in the classroom,” said Principal Kevin Mills. “We heard from students that they are wanting to promote unity and togetherness. I’m proud that our students were able to do this in a peaceful manner.”TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Senior Associated Student Body President Tristan Waits talks about Monday's walkout.

West Linn-Wilsonville Superintendent Kathy Ludwig sent a message to parents on behalf of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board Friday, Nov. 11, addressing concerns within the district as a whole.

“In times when the world around us is grappling with uncertainty and tension, we want to make it very clear that there is no place in our schools for threats or overt acts of bigotry, bullying, racism or any language that denigrates others based on their gender, religion, origin, race, sexual orientation or ability. This behavior does not represent the best of who we are, or our community,” she wrote in an email.

Waits said WLHS administration was immediately receptive to the walkout idea, and told students during the demonstration they should report future incidents to the school instead of responding to verbal attackers.TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A student promotes school unity during Monday's protest.

“We’ve worked with our admin, our admin is working with us, and they’re really supportive of us. We’re really appreciative of how they’ve listened to us,” Waits said.

After less than a half hour everyone who had wished to share their piece was finished. But before students filed back into the school, a raucous chant broke out. In unison, students yelled “West Linn united, we can’t be divided,” before heading back inside to escape the rain. Waits said he was pleased with the turnout and peaceful participation of students during the walkout, but that the demonstration would only prove worthwhile if the culture within the school improved.TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Students embrace during Monday's walkout.

“I hope students in our high school will take this to heart and see that it has affected some people,” Waits said. “I’ve been told by some people we’re blowing things out of proportion, but I hope this demonstration shows it is a real thing and it’s a big deal. I hope students take that away and learn to fight for other students. I hope they’re not bystanders.

“I want them to remember the students that had the bravery to stand up in front of hundreds of people and talk about their stories. Even if we only reached a couple hundred students, it’s a start.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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