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‘Cotton Picker!’: Pennsylvania High School Students Yell Racial Slurs at Black Students, Salute Hitler

Southern Lehigh High School in Pennsylvania. Photo by Express-Times.

Southern Lehigh High School in Pennsylvania. Photo by Express-Times.

Several Black students have been subjected to classmates yelling racial slurs at them in the hallways, according to fellow students and the principal of Southern Lehigh High School in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.

Principal Christine Siegfried said the Pennsylvania high school has seen an uptick in racially-charged incidents, detailing the offensive acts in a letter sent to students and their families on Wednesday, Lehigh Valley Live reports.

District Superintendent Kathleen Evison noted Friday that only a small number of students used the “extremely inappropriate language” and were promptly disciplined. Black students reported being called “cotton picker” by fellow classmates while others referred to lesbian students as “dykes.”

Per an e-mail sent to students by Siegfried, images of swastikas have also appeared around the high school — like on homework, laptops and in bathroom stalls — with some students even raising their arms to give a Hitler salute.

“Our student body is an extremely supportive and collaborative student body,” Evison said. “This is very unusual for us to hear this kind of language and, obviously, very disturbing.”

High school junior Jamie Kish said principal Siegfried came on the morning announcements recently to discuss the racially-offensive incidents. On Wednesday, the school a held special assembly where Siegfried urged students to treat one another with respect.

“It is noticeable and I do think it is a problem,” Kish said, noting that she has never been a target of the harassment. “I do think it is good the administration is trying to do something about it.”

“Black students seem to be one of the largest targets,” she added. “Some students think it is funny to yell slurs. It baffles me how people think this is OK.”

According to the Morning Call, the letter sent to parents outlined the racist and homophobic behavior, which has been occurring since the start of the school year. Superintendent Evison said parents hadn’t been notified earlier because the school was handling the behavior as isolated incidents. When the behavior continued, however, that’s when all parents were made aware, she said.

The Morning Call reports that Southern Lehigh’s student population is almost 90 percent white. Despite the recent incidents of overt racism, Evison insisted that the high school was accepting of students from all backgrounds.

“I think that the message we would give to our students is that Southern Lehigh is an accepting place, and we want all these students to feel valued,” she said. “We will continue to provide a message to all students across the entire demographics that they are welcomed in school.”

But high school senior Caitlin Roth, 17, disagreed with the superintendents’ false image of an all-inclusive school. Roth told the paper she has witnessed students raise their arms in the “Heil Hitler” salute, calling the act “very upsetting.”

“I don’t think Southern Lehigh is a very welcoming environment,” she said. “There’s a lot of bigotry that happens. We should have a more inviting and non-hostile environment.”

In her letter, school principal Siegfried urged parents to sit down with their kids and have a talk about racial differences in support of inclusion efforts at the school.

“It is my hope that our students will do a better job of respecting one another and accepting each other’s differences,” she wrote.

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