Students at Oregon City High School are rallying for equality after a barrage of racist incidents rocked the campus community in recent days.
On Monday, the Oregonian reported, a photograph was posted to social media which showed Oregon City students both past and present holding a sign reading “Welcome back to the farm nigger” alongside a crude drawing of what appeared to be a KKK member in a white robe.
The next day, senior N’Dea Flye received a note at her home, urging her to “go back to picking cotton, nigger,” adding “black lives don’t matter.” Local news outlet KATU reported the note was left after Flye wore a BLM shirt to class.
That was followed by a third post online, in which a picture of students holding a Black Lives Matter banner was digitally altered to show a number of racist and disparaging messages.
In a letter to parents obtained by KOIN, district superintendent Larry Didway described the posts as “appalling and unacceptable,” adding, “Incidents like these underscore the importance of ongoing community dialogue related to race, language, and bias.” He also promised that the incidents were being dealt with internally, and urged parents to use the posts as an opportunity to discuss the dangers of “inappropriate online communications.”
On Thursday, students staged a demonstration in the school’s courtyard against the recent wave of racism in their community—a rally that, while not sanctioned by school officials, was still supported by district administrators.
“The students organized in the courtyard where they peacefully expressed their outrage in a positive manner and demonstrated their commitment to ensuring a safe and respectful learning environment,” Oregon City School District spokesman Michael Clark said in a statement to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The school also scheduled a “Gathering For Unity” candlelight vigil Thuesday evening. The event was described as “an opportunity for us as a student body and a community unite against hatred and celebrate our diversity.”
During Thursday night’s vigil, principal Tom Lovell attempted to heal his campus community, reportedly saying, “It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, what you wear, it doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, it really shouldn’t matter, we’re all people, all human beings.”
According to the Oregon City High School website, classes were canceled for Friday.
Nevertheless, some in the community are frustrated with what they see as an attempt by the school to minimize the incidents. When the students’ protest, originally scheduled to take place in front of the school, was moved to the courtyard, parent Tonya Care accused the administration of wanting to “keep it on the down low,” telling the Oregonian, “I think it needs to be seen.”
Oregon City High School is a predominantly white school, with only 26 black students out of its student body of 2,172 in 2013-2014.
According to KATU, one student featured in the photograph posted Monday tweeted an apology, writing: “I apologize to every single person this offends. I screwed up by being in this picture and I know that but I can’t change it now as much as I wish I could.”
Speaking with the Oregonian, however, some students described the series of racist posts as more than isolated events, connecting them instead to the atmosphere of intolerance and bigotry that’s come to the fore during the 2016 election.
“I feel like the reason why this is happening is because of Donald Trump being so racist and sexist,” one teen told the paper. “A lot of people think it’s okay to do it, so they’re doing it.”