Students suspended over racist Instagram post

The photo pictured above was posted by one of the students involved in the writing of the racist slur.  All four students have since been suspended.

The photo pictured above was posted by one of the students involved in the writing of the racist slur. All four students have since been suspended.

By Margot Baer ’16 | Copy Editor

An Instagram photo showing four South students with the N-word written on three of their bodies was posted last Saturday, March 12.

Tia Fowlkes ’16 first saw the photo late Saturday night and felt disrespected, she said.

“I was in shock that they would do something like that,” Fowlkes said.

Fowlkes commented on the picture, and the student who posted the picture would not admit it contained a racial slur. After the poster was persistent that she was not being racist, Fowlkes decided to tweet out the post, she said.

“I was hoping to make people well aware of situations like this, because people always say racism doesn’t exist or racism doesn’t happen. Maybe it doesn’t happen to you, but it happens to so many people at this school,” Fowlkes said. “I wanted to make it less of an accusational moment and more of an educational moment.”

Principal Moussa Hamka became aware of the incident through students tagging him on Twitter, he said.

“On Sunday afternoon I started to look into it and traced it back and became aware of the picture and the very emotional and real response of the students,” Hamka said.

Hamka’s first step was to call the students who expressed their displeasure with the post, as well as the students pictured and their parents. An e-mail was sent to South staff on Sunday night about what had transpired, Hamka said.

After meeting with the students and their families on Monday, the students pictured were given a five-day separation from school. There were additional consequences given to two students who made threats towards those who spoke up against the Instagram post, Hamka said.

“When other people said, ‘racism doesn’t exist,’ it didn’t matter because I knew that it had never affected them first-hand,” Fowlkes said. “So if they can’t relate, their opinion didn’t matter to me. From where I stand, I know racism affects me today.”

The students pictured and the students who denounced the photo on Twitter met to discuss the incident, Hamka said.

“Each of the students pictured expressed their willingness and eagerness to meet some of those students affected,” Hamka said. “I think it worked out because the kids apologized. I think that all sides did a great job.”

The students pictured also met with the Black Awareness Society for Education (BASE), Hamka said.

“ I forgive them for their apologies, and I just hope something like this doesn’t happen again,” Fowlkes said.

Hamka made an announcement during the school day last Tuesday in an effort to address the incident.

“We must all come together, regardless of our differences in race, religion or politics to promote tolerance, compassion and acceptance,” Hamka said in the announcement.

Last Tuesday the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also had a press conference at South to address the event and commend Hamka for his handling of it.

Maddie Kolomjec ’18, a sister one of the students pictured, said she hopes people are able to move past this instance and use it as a learning moment.

“We have to accept the consequences and move on. We can learn from our mistakes and become better people from it,” Kolomjec said.

None of the students in the Instagram photo wanted to comment for this story.

The school is committed to providing a safe learning environment for everyone, including both those pictured and those affected by the photo, Hamka said.

“If you make a mistake, that is OK. We will only judge you on how you respond,” Hamka said. “There’s more than enough love and compassion to embrace all students.”

Fowlkes hopes the community will learn to address racism head-on in the future, she said.

“It should be handled in a friendly manner. You can’t fight hate with hate,” Fowlkes said. “We shouldn’t forget that this happened, but we should grow from it and grow together as a community.”