An Iowa high school staffer has been captured on camera calling a student the N-word. The video began circulating on social media last week, prompting school officials to respond and distance themselves from the man’s actions.
The Dubuque Hempstead High School has placed the worker on leave after the incident.
The white male staffer is seen using the racial slur as a tall Black male student walks by him in the school’s hallway. The three-second clip does not provide context to the comment.
“What you looking at n***er,” he says.
However, Assistant Principal Julia Jorgenson says no context is needed — it does not represent the school’s core values.
In a statement released to the school community, she said, “I want to be clear in saying that the actions shown in this video are not acceptable and do not represent the values of Hempstead High School or the Dubuque Community School District.”
Jorgenson explained in the letter, addressed to Hempstead families, that the staff member was placed on leave and the district has already begun investigating the incident. She also promised that the district would execute “appropriate disciplinary action,” pending the outcome of the probe.
The note expressed the school’s desire to create “a safe, inclusive learning environment,” adding, “Today, for many, Hempstead did not live up to that expectation.”
Hempstead is a part of the Dubuque Community School District. The district is predominately white with a small minority student population, with Black students making up only less than 10 percent of the student body, according to US News and Report.
Racial discrimination continues to be an issue for the nearly all-white town of Dubuque, even 30 years after the community made national headlines for still having racially motivated cross-burnings.
One Black resident, Jason Greer, whose father was the first Black principal in the town in 1991, said in a 2020 interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I was called the N-word so often that my running joke was I should change my name to the N-word to make it easier for people.”
According to the latest census records, Dubuque, the 11th largest city in Iowa, has only 58,237 residents and is 89.5 percent white. Overall, Blacks, as the largest minority group, make up only 4.22 percent of the city’s population.
Despite Blacks making up such a small percentage of the state population, one that almost mirrors Dubuque identically, it has one of the country’s highest incarceration rates for Blacks.
Jorgenson’s hope is to push past the systemic racism that has plagued the city and create a sanctuary for the students.
“I have talked personally with many students and parents today, as have members of our administrative team and staff across the building, to reinforce that we are here to support students today and moving forward,” she informed in the letter to the community. “I have been nothing short of impressed by the maturity, honesty, and emotion in those conversations.”
In an interview with KCRG, Robert Kimble, founder of the Dubuque Dream Center, said this incident shows why his organization, whose mission is based on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream about unity, is still relevant in 2023, even as the culture of the town is changing.
“Our school district is a great school district. It’s just important that if there are still people out there who think this way, and act this way, that we hold them accountable,” said Kimble.
According to Kimble, the fact that the Dubuque Community School District placed the staff member on leave sends a powerful message to the masses, especially those students impacted by the staffer’s words.
“Number one, don’t forget that there are people who care about you in this community. But number two, use this as an opportunity to educate,” he said.