Hate speech, racist graffiti spark discussion at WLHS
Racist graffiti was written on the girl's bathroom stalls, on signs and social media, and hateful speech was heard in hallways.
And while this may seem all too common nowadays at many schools, it's happening locally at West Linn High School.
In an email sent to WLHS families Oct. 27, Principal Kevin Mills addressed a few racist graffiti incidents that happened in recent weeks. While Mills declined to specify what was written and said, he did broadcast a video speaking about the matter through the classroom televisions.
"It got to a point where some of our students felt really uncomfortable and we wanted to make sure that we addressed it as a school and as a community to let them know we have zero tolerance around that," Mills said. "We have a higher expectation for how we treat each other."
Junior Wallace Milner said a couple days after Mills showed his video, a Twitter account — WL_Racist — was made, targeting student organizations. The account has since been banned.
While these incidents are definitely not unique to WLHS, it's also not the first time anything like this has been seen or heard at the school. After a Muslim girl was called a terrorist last year, among other incidents, West Linn students orchestrated a walk-out — with about 200 students in attendance — to protest racism.
"To say these types of things haven't happened in the past wouldn't be accurate," Mills said. "Whether it be students who are maybe using microaggressions, all of that stuff has come to a point where we are saying, 'How do we address it and get ahead of it?' rather than reacting to something that happened."
Junior Dennis Tang remembers hearing hateful comments in the hallways like "All these minorities around you, you don't know what disease you might be catching" and someone using the n-word on Twitter in a video last year when discussing black students at WLHS.
Unfortunately, what he remembers is exactly what's being repeated this year. He's heard racial slurs continuing in the halls, and has seen writing defacing posters for clubs and school events.
"I hope that we can remember that no country can stand if we hate one another," Milner said. "If we cannot confront these issues directly when faced with them in our schools, we create yet another generation that grows up tolerating intolerant acts."
This is where Mills sees these incidents as a learning opportunity for both students and the community.
"Sometimes we tend to want to (or) maybe we find out who did it, and maybe we want to call them out and almost ostracize them, and it's really learning that these are 14- to 18-year-old kids," Mills said. "For me, a single action doesn't define the character of that student, but rather once they have recognized what that action is and how it's impacted people, it's the actions after that really define them."
But Mills ensures people that the school is taking steps to improve the environment and educate students around awareness of different cultures. He said staff and the administration are looking at how the school is incorporating curriculum that gives students a view of the world outside West Linn. There are also clubs at the school that focus on similar topics. West Linn United is a student-led club where students talk about their experiences in today's social climate.
"We had a day last year where we actually had students teaching students about different types of topics across all different realms of society, (like) what it's like to go to school as a student of color, what is a microaggression, what is mental health awareness," Mills said. "It's pretty cool because it was students leading students, so that's probably the most powerful way to really help change happen — that peer to peer work they do."
There is also an equity team that was created last year and consists of 15 teachers, counselors and administrators who examine what the school's environment looks like, if it's welcoming to all students, and what systems are in place.
"It's a lot of work, a lot of openness and really looking at what we are doing and are there ways we can continue to get better? And then taking the learning from that and teaching the rest of our staff," Mills said. "So we are doing some professional development that's coming up around that work and around what we are hearing, seeing and the experiences of some of our students and teachers."
While there is no specificity around future steps that will be made, Mills said they are working on relaying the message to students that the adults in the building are here to serve students and to listen if something is making them uncomfortable. They want to ensure WLHS is a welcoming environment students can take pride in.
"Something that's powerful is continuing these conversations at home," Mills said. "Sometimes the most powerful thing for kids is to have their parents talk to them about this, what their expectations are (and) maybe some of their experiences they've had growing up, helping them encourage students to stand up for their peers and continue to create an inclusive environment that is about love and not hate."
And while Milner said he is disappointed that these racist incidents occured, he is impressed by how students and administration have reacted to it.
"We should never forget that the people who commit these sorts of actions are vastly outnumbered by students who are trying to make a positive change," Milner said. "I hope, in addition to condemning the bad, we can celebrate the good parts of West Linn High."