Racial tensions reached a fever pitch at Gloucester Institute of Technology in New Jersey last week after a group of students sported Confederate flag shirts and used racial slurs against classmates who were protesting racial injustice.
On Monday, faculty, administrators and students from the school’s African-American Culture Club met with local NAACP President Loretta Winters to discuss the incidents, according to NJ.com. The students explained that they wore black during Spirit Week as a form of silent protest and a show of support for Black Lives Matter. Their efforts were not well received by fellow students, however.
“Many [of us] have been called the N-word to their face,” the students said in a statement at the meeting. “… Someone was told if they don’t like discrimination, they should bleach their skin. Others have been spit on … Students have also been verbally abusing African–American Culture Club members by saying ‘Go back to Africa’ and using derogatory terms such as [the N-word].”
The alleged taunting even spilled over to social media, the students said, where classmates criticized their protest using racist and defamatory slurs.
In a letter to parents Friday, Nov. 3, principal James Dundee addressed concerns about the racist remarks made in response to the students’ demonstration, describing the comments as “alarming.”
“The School District and the School Administration want to be very clear that there’s no tolerance for prejudicial comments, remarks, racism or hatred in [our] school,” Dundee wrote. “All students found to be involved in the incident, and in the events leading up to the incident have been disciplined per the student code of conduct.”
“All our students and staff deserve to come to school each day and feel safe and respected,” he added. “[GCIT] will continue to work to provide an environment and culture in our school community that is tolerant and accepting of all individuals.”
Superintendent Mike Dickens, who also met with students Monday, said the school is still investigating the matter, so he couldn’t say how many more students could face disciplinary action, NJ.com reported. The investigation hasn’t interfered with the students’ education, he said.
Spirit Week kicked off last Wednesday with “America Day,” where students were to asked to dress up in red, white and blue. Students with the African American Culture Club opted to wear black, however, because they “were as a whole frustrated and fed up” with dealing with previous racial incidents.
“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,” a statement from the club continued.
Their silent protest quickly caught the attention of other students who viewed it as an effort to take attention away from Spirit Week. That’s when an unnamed student posted on social media app Snapchat telling students to wear Confederate flag shirts in response, according to the news site. Students also presented school leaders with screenshots of their classmates’ racist social media posts criticizing their efforts. Some supported wearing the Confederate flag while another student was told to “learn their history.”
The AACC decided to proceed with its protest.
After Monday’s meeting, Winters said she felt school officials had made a commitment to promoting racial equity at GCIT. The African American Culture Club later met with students who wore the Confederate flag to exchange perspectives, according to NJ.com