Students posted racist remarks online. These Granada Hills high schoolers are taking action
As their virtual graduation approached and as their city erupted in widespread protests over the death of George Floyd, students at Granada Hills Charter High School took a stand in their own campus community against online, anti-black comments.
After reading racist online remarks that were written by fellow students in a private group chat, they called it out. They refused to stay silent. The profane comments, repeated use of the n-word and racial slurs were captured on screen grabs by an offended member of the private chat group and reposted by others on social media as an example of intolerable hate speech.
In the postings from the private chat, a student mocked Floyd, compared black people to monkeys, called them a stupid race and joked about starting a club in college to kill them.
“People were like: ‘Wow, it was disgusting. I can’t believe I go to a school with people like this,’” said Brookelynn Fenderson, 17, a graduating senior who is president of the school’s Black Student Union and temporarily reposted the messages, expressing outrage. “Granada is a very diverse school. You see different races and ethnicities and you feel very accepted. To see this really threw me off.”
She said it felt impossible to remain silent at a time when the nation is responding to the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody after an officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“It’s really important for people to see these things people are saying,” Fenderson said. “Like this guy is in my senior class and these are the comments he’s making.”
Daron Vinson, who also is black, was among the first students to repost the hate speech — he said he was given the thread of posts by a student who was in the private chat group.
“When I read what they were saying, I felt I had the responsibility to shed some light on that,” said Vinson, another graduating senior. “Because nobody should be talking like that so close to George Floyd’s death — and the fact that they were making fun of it.”
“It hurts,” Vinson said.” I would expect more from these students.”
The semester has been emotionally challenging at the west San Fernando Valley school, as students and staff — like those throughout the state and nation — have tried to continue academic instruction online with their campus shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. Senior activities were canceled; Wednesday’s graduation ceremony unfolded online with students separated from friends.
And then during the week of graduation, word began spreading about the posts from the private chat.
The threads with the offensive language include a few nervous responses that don’t directly challenge the hate speech. There’s also a thread with some pushback and the suggestion that the thread had been or would be shared with a black friend.
The original poster of the hate speech responded with another racial slur.
Brian Bauer, the executive director of Granada Hills Charter, said the school was notified of the online statements Monday and took immediate action.
“We cannot allow racist language to be ignored and the students who used racist language experienced heavy consequences,” Bauer said in a statement, adding that he could not comment on the specifics or identify the students involved because of privacy issues.
“The national events this week have reinforced the importance of being anti-racist and we are proud of the students who took that lesson to heart and called out their peers for inappropriate language,” Bauer said of the students who stood up to the hate language. “We have a responsibility to all of our students and staff to stand with the anti-racist students who are unwilling to be silent or complicit.”
Isabella Gonzalez, a senior, said despite “an unfortunate growing culture of hatred within my generation ... the overwhelming majority of my peers agreed that the messages we read were vile and repulsive, and we knew something had to be done.”
She described “a moment of true camaraderie to watch my classmates band together and take action,” including notifying school administrators.
Such hateful online expressions “should always be called out,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, based in Montgomery, Ala., that specializes in civil rights and the monitoring of hate groups.
“Racism gets picked up and amplified by young people,” Brooks said. “Any kind of racist language — whether it be anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia — should always be challenged.”
The Times reviewed a screenshot of an apology from one of the chat-group students. This, too, was circulating among students even though the post has either been deleted or is not publicly accessible.
That apology, read in part: “I’m very sorry for what I said. I said those things because I was frustrated with Coronavirus and the George Floyd protest but I completely understand that does not excuse my actions... I have learned from my mistakes and I accept any consequences that come my way.”
The Times was unable to reach the students who allegedly made the racial slurs.
Word about the posts has spread — and has been condemned — beyond students at Granada Hills.
“The hate speech used by the students from Granada was absolutely disgusting,” said Sara Iches, a graduating senior at Learning Post High School in Valencia, who learned of the episode from friends at Granada Hills.
“It’s really disappointing that they felt comfortable using such words so casually,” said Darielle Martin, a student who graduated from Granada Hills last year and now attends UC Riverside. “It’s apparent that this was not their first time using hate speech.”
Martin also said the school needs to do more with racial literacy and diversity training.
A 16-year-old junior said she has noticed racial insensitivity among some students at the school.
“I have seen swastikas carved on my desks,” said the student, whose parents requested that her name not be used. “I have seen many non-black students using the n-word casually, and I have heard quite a few people make racist remarks, especially about African Americans, at our school. It’s very infuriating to see this sort of behavior because it really interferes with students’ abilities to feel comfortable at school.”
Vinson, who plans to attend the Otis College of Art and Design, said he found the racially charged statements to be at odds with the values taught by teachers and embraced by many students.
About 4% of students are black at Granada Hills, which is managed under its own board of directors independent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The school is 40% Latino, 26% white and 18% Asian. The school also is distinctive for its size — about 4,700 students — and its domination of the national Academic Decathlon competition.
Students said the postings appeared on Discord, a social media platform that appeals especially to gamers but is available for general use.
Although originally in a private chat, “in the world of social media, there is no such thing as private,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization that was founded in Los Angeles. ”Inevitably, it will reach the public. While we have the right to utter almost any word, words have consequence.”
Tyrone Howard, professor of education at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, wrote in Education Week Wednesday that educators should take several steps to combat anti-black racism: Name it as what it is; believe black students when they speak about racism, discrimination, exclusion or prejudice; and don’t challenge, minimize or dilute “Black Lives Matter.” Fourthly, he said, celebrate black excellence.
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