#BlackAtBLS raises questions about racism and education

On Martin Luther King day this year, two seniors at Boston Latin School (BLS), Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, published a video launching a hashtag about racism at BLS. Noel and Webster-Cazeau call #BlackAtBLS “Phase 1” of their campaign to address racism at their high school, the oldest public school in the nation. The two are members of the group BLACK, for Black Leaders Advocating for Change and Knowledge.

The #BlackAtBLS video includes such examples as “#BlackAtBLS. When you’re the only black student in your AP US History class, and when slavery comes up, they all turn to you” and “#BlackAtBLS. When people can walk in the halls saying [n—-] without fear of being reprimanded.”

In response, students have shared examples through social media of their own experiences of discrimination at BLS. One student recently tweeted, “5 years later wondering why teachers at Latin still can’t tell their black students apart.”

While the campaign focuses on the treatment of black students, other students of color are also sharing their experiences. “When a teacher calls everything in an Amy Tan book ‘exotic’ and ‘oriental’ (Asians are POC too) #blackatbls,” one student tweeted.

While only 14% of the students in Boston Public Schools are white, almost half of the students at BLS are white, according to the New York Times. Today, 9% of the population at BLS are black and 12% are Hispanic. Yet in Boston Public Schools across the district, 32% and 42% are Black and Hispanic, respectively. BLS is also far less diverse than Boston’s other two exam schools, Boston Latin Academy and O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

One of the accusations of the video is that white BLS students have been using social media to make public racial slurs; BLACK claims that Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta did not respond after the group brought these tweets and social media messages to her attention.

One week after the video launched, Ms. Teta released a memo to the community, saying that “we have received important feedback that we are falling short in meeting our mission for some of our students.” Her memo outlined steps that would be implemented to improve the school’s racial climate.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has met with Noel and Webster-Cazeau, after which he tweeted, “Honored to meet brilliant, remarkable youth standing for what’s right. #Boston is better b/c of you.”

The two student leaders addressed the Boston School Committee’s Jan. 27 meeting, and Tommy Chang, Boston’s schools superintendent, has called for administrators to create a more welcoming environment at all Boston public schools.

According to the Boston Globe, Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a Boston nonprofit, said communities of color are “concerned about the culture, a feeling that their students won’t be supported in the way that they need.” 

The Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had a five-hour meeting with Ms. Teta on February 21, according to the Boston Globe. After the meeting, Michael Curry, president of the Boston NAACP, called for Ms. Teta to be removed as headmaster, saying, “We no longer have faith that she can act in a way that is in the best interest of the students at Boston Latin, particularly when it comes to safety and for that she needs to go.” Mr. Curry and his group spoke with at least 20 current and former Boston Latin students, dating back to the 1970s, and their families about racism at the school. Some parents reported that Ms. Teta has been unresponsive in the past with regards to similar incidents and has failed to acknowledge the problem or talk about race.

Two days later, Ms. Teta released another memo to the school community, this time apologizing for the administration’s slow response to the racial tensions at the school.

Last week, the United States Attorney’s Office agreed to investigate potential civil rights violations at BLS, according to WBUR.

Image source: Boston Latin School.

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