New York may be thought of as an extremely liberal state with one of the most diverse cities in the country. However, as it has been shown in the last few weeks, prejudice and ignorance can and do exist, even in the most unlikely places. Since Wednesday, April 9 four students have been expelled from a Long Island private school for acts that seemingly promoted racism and hatred. While school officials claim there was no apparent conflict among students before the two separate instances of upsetting behavior occurred, it may be time for the staff, parents, and community at large to take a look at what is transpiring among the youth of South Huntington. Meanwhile, there is debate over whether or not the students in question should have been so severely punished.
On April 9, during an after school game of handball in the South Huntington school’s gymnasium, at least two senior male students showed up to the event with a Confederate flag hanging over their shoulders. Particularly disturbing is that the game itself consisted of two teams, one made up of mostly caucasian students, while the other was comprised mostly of African American students. There was also a picture posted on social media, featuring some of the high school senior boys flashing the same flag in the hallway of St. Anthony’s Catholic School. A school faculty member quickly escorted the two main culprits off the premises. They were later suspended for ten days, yet upon further review, the punishment turned into permanent expulsion.
To further exacerbate the understandably tense atmosphere at the private Catholic school, which is 75 percent caucasian, two sophomore girls posted racially charged matter on social media just a week later. Allegedly, they photographed themselves in blackface, which was accompanied by a “racist text.” The post has since been removed. Now, a school and a town must figure out how to address the situation in a way that educates and eliminates ignorance, the root of prejudice, racism and hate. While it is unclear just why the four students at an otherwise well-functioning Long Island private school would feel comfortable with racism as a form of expression, it cannot be discounted that such notions were bubbling up over a period of time. No one wakes up one day and says to themselves : “Time to be a racist!” without some sort of misguided belief system already in place.
However, the one thing these students have going for them, is that they are young – young and stupid. These two characteristics have gone hand in hand since the dawn of time. It is being a teenager when mistakes are and should be made, so that lessons are learned and growth can take place. Yet, this does not mean adults are immune from being students themselves and, in fact, there is a lesson for the grown ups of South Huntington as well. Perhaps they have been resting on their laurels, not paying attention to the attitudes of their kids and the kids of others. One can only hope that the very individuals who gave birth to these inappropriate ignoramuses are not racist themselves. That would surely make for a much more difficult resolve.
Since the incidences have taken place, principal Brother Gary Cregan has addressed the situation by sending out a letter to parents stating that the school “will always demand acceptance and respect for all races, religions and cultures.” The action of expelling four students over promoting racism at a Long Island private school has not sat well with everyone. In fact Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union hinted that freedom of speech should not simply be censored, but allowed to create an atmosphere of dialogue so that students can comprehend “the impact of this patently offensive expressive activity.” While she may have a point, principal Cregan has held off on a school “sit down” as emotions are allegedly still very “high” and the mood within the institution remains “tense.”
Opinion by Josh Taub