Since its discovery on January 21, the Pelham community has expressed disappointment by the discovery of a racial slur written in red pen in a boys’ bathroom. Few, however, have expressed surprise that the incident occurred. A source of greater disappointment, however, has been the fact that little has been shared with the community about the ongoing investigation or even whether the investigation is, in fact, ongoing. With the exception of an assembly on hate crimes, which had been scheduled even before the discovery of the hate message, there has been radio-silence from the district about the status of this incident.
“Unfortunately we were not able to identify the student who wrote this offensive and hateful word. Since we do not have cameras or staff in the bathroom we have to only rely on the honesty of students to report if they see something concerning,” Dr. Champ said. It’s likely that the community may never learn the true identity of the perpetrator. The school is now stressing that, if another incident like this happens, students should advise school officials as to who the person committing this act is.
As to what the next steps in the community are, Champ said, “We are unfortunately at a standstill with this incident. I have worked in secondary schools in four different districts over the past 20 years of my educational career and have noticed a pattern in that schools tend to see an uptick in incidents like this when students are studying particular literature that uses this language, raising issues related to the dark history of racism in our country. That may have contributed to this incident. Sometimes, when ill-informed students sense the power of hateful epithets such as this, they push the boundaries and try to provoke and inflame. It is at these times that students and adults need to come together and underscore the expectation that this is not tolerated in our school and that we will not perpetuate hate in this way.”
Is the district suggesting that we avoid material taught in schools often contains content that is offensive yet historically authentic. Will we see an end to Night, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Or, more than ever, is it important to hold a mirror up to societies that condone hate and bigotry in order to discuss why these things are destructive?
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) believes the latter to be true. In its mission statement they say that “censorship leaves students with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems of their culture.” So, while a district may not want to give bigots any ideas about perpetrating hate crimes, it is dangerous to sugar-coat the way societies operate and pretend that bias does not exist at all.
The now growing number of hate crimes within the school and this community show evidence of the school’s trouble and inability to hinder and stop the perpetuation of the use of offensive slurs and stronger measures should be considered.
In the meantime, another incident of hate was found in Colonial Elementary School. As of now, little has been found from this investigation as well. There were discussions and meetings planned over how to handle this incident, however, they will likely be postponed until the coronavirus threat is over. Hatred and bigotry in our community are an infection that must also be eradicated.