Another school is under fire after a group chat surfaced on social media about an alleged mock slave trade involving Black students at a high school in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, local TV station WPBN reported.
The news outlet revealed that an investigation was underway after reports claimed some students at Traverse City High School pretended to sell and buy Black students on Snapchat.
WPBN spoke to Jala Sue Wharton, who said her 15-year-old daughter Navaeh, who is biracial, informed her about the Snapchat group called “slave trade” Thursday, April 22. She told the outlet that her daughter and several other Black students were involved.
“A group of kids were pretending to sell and buy kids of color around Traverse City as, like, slaves,” Navaeh said, explaining that she was told this by a friend. “And then the next morning she was like ‘You were in it. They put your picture in the group chat and auctioned you off.”
Navaeh said she used to “smile at them [students] in the halls” and was hurt that they could do something like this. “I do know that there are kids in the area who do and say things like that as a joke, but then as the situation increase, I realized this is really wrong,” she said.
Parents and school officials denounced the alleged racist behavior during a meeting at the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education on Monday, April 26. Three days before, the district confirmed they were aware of the situation, stating, “A very serious and inappropriate incident related to high school student behavior on social media. A Snapchat termed ‘slave trade’ similar to those being shared in other states have been duplicated in the region.” It added, “TCAPS students appropriately reported the Snapchat to school officials who immediately began an investigation into the matter. The school district continues to thoroughly follow its investigative and disciplinary procedures and responsibilities, including any requirements under Board policy and Title IX.”
Dr. John VanWagoner, superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools, also released a statement, saying, “We are disheartened to hear this behavior and activity has occurred in our community, particularly at a moment when our nation continues to grapple with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.” He added, “Our schools and school communities are committed to working tirelessly to provide safe learning environments for all students by prohibiting harassment due to an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion or disability.” The district’s investigation into the Snapchat messages, which includes the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office, is ongoing.
A similar situation took place two weeks before at Aledo ISD in Texas. The game was played among Daniel Ninth Grade Campus students in a Snapchat group which priced Black students between $1-$100. Some of the descriptions included critiquing the hair of a male student who was valued at $1.
Following an internal investigation, officials determined racial harassment and cyberbullying were both factors in the incident. The district said racism and the impact of the students’ actions would be addressed “through district-led educational opportunities.”