West Linn High School students hold rally amidst rumors of verbal abuse
WLHS students have ended their walkout and returned to classes pic.twitter.com/iJkTkd1jw0— WestLinn Tidings (@WestLinnTidings) November 14, 2016
While protesters in Portland continued their rampage through city streets this past week, students at West Linn High School joined together for a demonstration of their own, following rumors of racism and bullying within the schools walls.
Organized by the schools Associated Student Body (ASB) the schools student council representing goals and interests of the student body approximately 300 students gathered in front of the school Monday, Nov. 15 to bring issues of overt bigotry to the forefront in a peaceful manner. Students hoisted signs that said Love conquers hate, and Progress has no color, among others, while various students took turns sharing their own experiences with racism and bullying within the school.
Students of varied race, religion and sexual orientations spoke about reports of verbal attacks on Muslim and Latino students, including being called terrorists and illegals in addition to written graffiti with racial slurs on school grounds.
Senior Rameen Ali told the audience she felt in danger coming school during the past week, and pleaded with classmates to hold each other accountable to eliminate hurtful insults and threats in the future.
My whole life Ive gotten looks when I go into Fred Meyer, or a coffee shop, or anywhere else. But every time I walk into (West Linn High School) I feel safe and welcome, Ali told her peers. But this past week Ive had my mom calling me after a late night Yearbook session asking me if Mr. Krake walked me to my car, and Ive been given pepper spray and taught how to use it because of all this. School has always been a safe place for me because Im a good student, and I want that to remain the case.
ASB President Tristan Waits said issues of racism, sexism and bullying at West Linn High School arent necessarily new, but that theyve been heightened since the Presidential election last Tuesday.
There has been more of this outright racism in the wake of the election, but theres definitely been a tone of racism thats affected me throughout my career, and other kids careers at West Linn High School, Waits said. In the past it hasnt been so outright or as blatant as calling a Muslim girl a terrorist or a Latino student an illegal, but its definitely been something thats gone on both minor and right in your face. It felt like (a demonstration) was needed to bring everyone together and realize were all underneath the same umbrella.
Waits said the walkout demonstration was less about the election and more about students recent actions within the school. Despite the nature of the demonstration, he said Mondays walkout was meant to be a positive protest, and that its just a jumping off point. ASB is also planning a unity week to further address persisting issues in the future.
We dont want anyone to feel unsafe. We want everyone to feel like they have a place in our school, said sophomore Wallace Milner. Today isnt a political thing I cant stress this enough. These issues are not Republican issues, theyre not Democrat issues, these are basic human issues.
ASB coordinated the walkout demonstration with West Linn High School administration, who watched the walkout from a distance while teachers remained within the building to be with students who wished to stay in class.
Administrators said they couldnt discuss any student discipline or specific incidents, but Principal Kevin Mills said the school constantly promotes student unity and inclusiveness.
We wanted to ensure that all our students were safe and had a positive experience during this peaceful demonstration, which is why we had adult supervision outside and teachers who continued instruction in the classroom, said Principal Kevin Mills. We heard from students that they are wanting to promote unity and togetherness. Im proud that our students were able to do this in a peaceful manner.
West Linn-Wilsonville Superintendent Kathy Ludwig sent a message to parents on behalf of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board Friday, Nov. 11, addressing concerns within the district as a whole.
In times when the world around us is grappling with uncertainty and tension, we want to make it very clear that there is no place in our schools for threats or overt acts of bigotry, bullying, racism or any language that denigrates others based on their gender, religion, origin, race, sexual orientation or ability. This behavior does not represent the best of who we are, or our community, she wrote in an email.
Waits said WLHS administration was immediately receptive to the walkout idea, and told students during the demonstration they should report future incidents to the school instead of responding to verbal attackers.
Weve worked with our admin, our admin is working with us, and theyre really supportive of us. Were really appreciative of how theyve listened to us, Waits said.
After less than a half hour everyone who had wished to share their piece was finished. But before students filed back into the school, a raucous chant broke out. In unison, students yelled West Linn united, we cant be divided, before heading back inside to escape the rain. Waits said he was pleased with the turnout and peaceful participation of students during the walkout, but that the demonstration would only prove worthwhile if the culture within the school improved.
I hope students in our high school will take this to heart and see that it has affected some people, Waits said. Ive been told by some people were blowing things out of proportion, but I hope this demonstration shows it is a real thing and its a big deal. I hope students take that away and learn to fight for other students. I hope theyre not bystanders.
I want them to remember the students that had the bravery to stand up in front of hundreds of people and talk about their stories. Even if we only reached a couple hundred students, its a start.