At a high school in New Jersey, the annual Spirit Week became tense and politicized after controversy was unleashed over the display of Confederate flags on campus, as well as some students use of racist slurs. Administrators, faculty, and students from the African American Culture Club (AACC) of the Gloucester County Institute of Technology met with Gloucester County NAACP President Loretta Winters on Monday to determine next steps. 

On November 1, Spirit Week on campus commenced with “America Day.” Students were asked to display their patriotism by wearing clothing featuring the red, white and blue. Some black AACC students wore black in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in silent protest, reportedly because they “were as a whole frustrated and fed up” with the purported racism at the school. A statement by AACC declared: “We the students came together and made the decision of wearing black to silently protest what is happening, to demand equality and fairness as an American, and to unite together as one.”

News of the black student protest circulated on social media, with some students criticizing AACC for detracting from Spirit Week. When a classmate called on fellow students to bring on Confederate flags, black students opted to continue wearing black.

In a meeting with local NAACP leader Winters, AACC members claimed to have been called “the n-word to their face” and were spat upon. They also claimed that one of their members was told: “if they don’t like discrimination, they should bleach their skin.” AACC members took screen shots of objectionable posts on social media. “Students have also been verbally abusing African American Culture Club members by saying ‘Go back to Africa’ and using derogatory statements such as [the n-word],” the students at the meeting said.

School principal Jamie Dundee told parents last week in a letter that there was an investigation. “The administration was informed of various comments that were of an alarming nature,” Dundee wrote. “As the investigation unfolded, we learned that a group of students posted comments over social media that contained racial and defaming slurs.”

Gloucester County Special Services School District Superintendent Mike Dicken said that the school was “moving forward” after the incidents, according to NJ.com. Dicken declined to say how many of the students involved will be disciplined. 

From NJ.com:

Winters said school officials made a commitment to racial equity at the meeting, and hopes that students who wore the Confederate flag can grow to understand why it may upset black classmates. The African American Culture Club later met with students who wore the flag to exchange perspectives.

“The Confederate flag is to the black community as the Swastika is to the Jewish community,” she said, noting that there are feelings of “pain and suffering” that it brings up.

“It’s the flag used by the KKK, and they’re a terrorist group,” she said. “People need to be educated on what the Confederate flag stands for and what it means. ... How do you support that? How do you support any terrorist group?”
 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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