In wake of lynching threat, Monument principal, students, say school has racial tension, issues

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By Tuesday, Oct 4 News  20 Comments
Heather Bellow
Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Marianne Young speaks to students Tuesday morning in the gymnasium about racism at the school after an African-American student was threatened with lynching last week.
School Senate President Teddy Michaels speaks to students, says there is “racial tension” at the school. Photo: Heather Bellow.

School Senate President Teddy Michaels speaks to students, and says there is “racial tension” at the school. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Great Barrington — Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Marianne Young told students at this morning’s assembly (Oct. 4) that, in grappling with a recent racist threat and its aftermath at the school, she’s had to do some deep diving within.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” she said, adding that her recent comments to the press about the incident, and “decisions,” may not have “represented the school.”

Young didn’t go into details about an incident — still under investigation by the school, local police, and possibly the FBI — in which a white student threatened to lynch an African-American student because, during the national anthem at an away game, he kneeled to protest national police killings of black men.

Young, however, confirmed what up to now was reported as an allegation. “Somebody did, in fact, say a horrific, indefensible racist comment.”

Monument students and faculty at an all-school assembly in the gymnasium. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Monument students and faculty at an all-school assembly in the gymnasium. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Federal privacy laws prevent school officials from talking specifics.

And rather than pointing her fingers, Young turned them on herself.

“I don’t always want to hear…but I have to hear,” she added. “I am going to recommit myself to this work…racism is an issue at Monument — it has to be talked about. If I have hurt anyone by my behavior or my way of communicating, I apologize.”

Student Senate President Teddy Michaels, a senior, addressed the 500-plus student body.

“There are bigots and racists in the world,” Michaels said. “But Monument doesn’t have to be the way the world is out there…we can influence our community by the way we treat others and ourselves.”

He said he didn’t want his fellow students to grow up and “look back…embarrassed” by what went on at the school. He echoed Young: “This is not about individuals — it’s about us all.”

Students Tristan Alston, left, and Anna Lucia Borady-Bloom, who said she had witnessed a racist threat on a school bus. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Students Tristan Alston, left, and Anna Lucia Borady-Bloom, who said she had witnessed a racist threat on a school bus. Photo: Heather Bellow.

He quoted Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”

And Michaels spoke to what many in the Monument and general communities have expressed, especially on social media, since the incident came to light.

“There is racial tension at the school; that is undeniable,” he said.

Yes, lately the stories have ripped loose from safe moorings of privilege and the perception that we are a right-thinking Berkshires. Junior Anna Lucia Borady-Bloom told one such tale.

Once, on the school bus, she said she overheard a student tell “a little African-American girl,” a first grader, “‘after school, I’m gonna get you…with a knife.’” It prompted the girl, she said, to go home and ask what was wrong with her skin color.

School Senate President Teddy Michaels, left, and Tristan Alston. Both students spoke about racial issues and tension at the school. Photo: Heather Bellow.

School Senate President Teddy Michaels, left, and Tristan Alston. Both students spoke about racial issues and tension at the school. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Junior Mae Rose told The Edge Monday that she was aware of “racist incidents” over the years as well as the current climate. She said she hoped school officials “would convey how serious this is.”

“I don’t want them to sugarcoat it and I want them to be straight with us and not act like this is unheard of,” Rose said.

Junior Tristan Alston, whose father is African-American, said he has felt “a sickening hopelessness” at the racial tenor at the school.

“I don’t feel safe in these halls, I don’t feel appreciated or respected.” He said the adults had been ineffectual and dismissive. “Nothing was ever done…the administration let us down.”

Alston said this was about “decency and integrity,” and, referencing a quote at the school entrance, he said, “if we want to ‘make our mark on the world,’ maybe we should start on our own school.”

Monument English teacher and poet Lisken Van Pelt Dus reads a poem. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Monument English teacher and poet Lisken Van Pelt Dus reads a poem. Photo: Heather Bellow.

English teacher and poet Lisken Van Pelt Dus noted that the assembly had been moved to Tuesday so that Jewish students and faculty could be present, since Monday was the first day of Rosh Hashanah. She read the poem “The Birthday of the World” by Marge Piercy about penetrating shields of blindness “this holy season” and rooting out “self-convicted sloth in a time when lies choke the mind and rhetoric bends reason to slithering choking pythons.”

The final stanza in Piercy’s poem speaks to what Young has set out to do: “As I approach what judges me, I judge myself. Give me weapons of minute destruction. Let my words turn into sparks.”

“We lost our footing for a while,” Young said, before she asked different groups of students, athletes or artists, student leaders, and everyone, no matter which group they identify with, to stand and “recommit ourselves to being…people of integrity and courage.”

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20 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Erik Bruun says:

    We as a nation are engaged in a struggle with our own bigotry. Principal Marianne Young’s courage to lead that inward look sets the role model of leadership. She deserves applause and support for embracing that challenge, as do all the Monument Mountain students and teachers who join that process. Our school has become a home of the brave.

    1. Shawn G. says:

      hear, hear!

  2. Cathy Fracasse says:

    Soul searching is appropriate, but where is the explicit, concrete strategy to make sure 1st graders on school buses and high school students in hallways are safe and respected? How long are these kids expected to live this way? They have to get up and go about a day during which they feel constantly under threat. This situation must be dealt with immediately.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      It all starts and ends at home. Over the last generation we have forgotten family values and all too often depend on the government and schools to solve our problems, and both have failed miserably in almost all issues and problems.

      1. Richard Stanley says:

        Marianne is a real LEADER not satisfied to point out the obvious (like many others are doing) but by actually facing the difficult issues not simply commenting on them.
        We can not let bigotry of any kind stand. It is like a virus left unchecked. It will spread and grow !!!

      2. Carol Diehl says:

        Yes, racism starts at home, too. You can’t expect parents who are racist to raise their children otherwise. This is where the school can have an important influence.

      3. Patrick Fennell says:

        And you can’t count on government to solve family problems, in fact thanks to the government the families are breaking up and have become all too often dysfunctional, based on programs, etc. The government causes more problems than it solves, especially over the last twenty-five years.

      4. Neel Webber says:

        During my 22 years of as a public school educator (the government) I have seen teachers, administrators, and coaches step into the lives of children who come from dysfunctional families , help them find the tools and programs that they need to navigate life and ultimately make a positive and significant difference in their lives. We may not solve the family problem but we, as a community, can help give a child an opportunity that they deserve.

      5. Cathy Fracasse says:

        Patrick Fennell, I’m not sure how your comment is responsive to mine. Are you suggesting that the school should do nothing to protect the 1st grader who is threatened with bodily harm on a school bus? Nothing to protect the safety of a teenager who is threatened with LYNCHNG? Nothing to address an environment in which a high school student feels unsafe in the hallways of his high school?
        Are you suggesting these children are somehow responsible for this problem? Are you suggesting that those making these threats have no responsibility because their families failed to instill basic values of decency?
        What, exactly, is your point, other than to throw up your hands and claim ‘it’s a problem of family values’?
        Finally, do you not see how the name calling, baseless attacks, and meaningless screeds on message boards like these at the Edge add to a general attitude of “I’ll say whatever I want to, no matter how vile” shows kids that they don’t have any responsibility for their actions and words?
        Please add to these conversations with meaningful, actionable ideas, and please clarify how your earlier comment serves the community and these children.

      6. Patrick Fennell says:

        Kathy it ALL starts and ends with the family. The government is no substitute=te for parents. When we allow schools and government to raise our kids we are in big trouble. Again it comes down to family. The government offers few good solutions and based on how long this crime took to clean-up mostly because of government, lawyers, bureaucracy, and administrators afraid of being hit with lawsuits, it is obvious .

      7. Cathy Fracasse says:

        Mr. Fennell, I don’t see what’s so obvious to you. The schools, the students, the teachers, the administrators, and the families are all part of this community. Children spend their days in school and school-based activities. Yes, they need strong families who nurture fairness, kindness, responsibility, and compassion; they also need a community that embraces these values. When you deride “government”, you deride your neighbors who work hard to improve the lot of the community. When you insist that schools have no role in teaching and affirming values, you ignore very basic truths about human beings. When we send our children to school, it’s not like taking your car to the gas station. They’re not simply being filled up with knowledge; they are bringing their whole developing selves with them. They are learning math, literature, science, art, music and language; but they are also learning to be members of a community. They’re learning who they are.
        These kids bring the positive and negative – what they’ve learned at school, at home, and from the larger society. Helping them process all of that and continue their growth is absolutely within the purview of the school. But the first priority is keeping these children safe – for now and into the future.

      8. Jennifer Wade says:

        Mr. Fennel: No, It doesn’t have to end with a student’s dysfunctional home. Teachers and school adminstrators can decide to step in and make an enormous difference in a student’s life. Are you unable to consider, for one, Neel Webber’s experience in helping support and guide students toward positive directions? Listen to the most committed teachers and you may learn.

  3. Barbara Drosnin says:

    I find it interesting that the assembly was moved to the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as if that day was
    not also a Jewish Holy Day.

  4. Bernie says:

    Stop calling threats on someone’s life “racial comments!”
    Ms Young, you should resign.

  5. Bernie says:

    These articles are disturbing.
    The subject and focus is “an African-American student” rather than the perpetrator of a crime.
    The images show students casually sitting on a gym floor rather than in a serious, formal environment, which life-threatening behavior warrants.
    Wake up Great Barrington!

    1. Jennifer Wade says:

      Nothing wrong with sitting on the gym floor as everyone considers this serious situation.

  6. Leif Steinert says:

    Our children (MMRHS 04, 06, 06) loved Mr. Webber and had nothing but good things to say about him. Also loved was Rob Putnam, who taught my daughter first grade at Plain School. For the first few weeks, she couldn’t say his name and called him Mr. Putman. Mr. Webber is correct that the teachers do a lot to put the kids on the right track in life.
    In this case, the misinformed student could be made to publicly apologize to the other student, offer his hand to shake, and be required to stay after school and clean toilets for a week. Then forget about it. Sometimes children who fight like this end up becoming best friends.

    1. Sue says:

      First of all the accused teen never threatened the kid directly. He never threatened his life. Have you ever heard of the game telephone? One kid says one thing and by the time it gets to the end the story is completely changed. On top of it all the accuser is now posting hate statements against the white race. Is that ok? Where does it stop.

      1. Regi WIngo says:

        So i want you to take some time to realize that you had a reaction to things being posted about ‘the white race’. Posted. Now imagine he was threatening to put you in a place where you are ALWAYS outnumbered, and that he was going to hang you. You know your kids are just being kids rhetoric is dangerous, much like boys will be boys is perfectly ‘ok’ until someone gets raped…

  7. Suzanne says:

    So Sue we are to assume that the threat is less frightening if it’s not said directly to the student. You can’t be serious? Seems that you think this should just be brushed off and then “like the telephone game” you repeat that the victim has now made statements against the white race. If my child would have been threatened with a “lynching” I would demand that the other child be expelled. No child should be in a unsafe school environment. Too many Columbine, Newtowne etc. when should threats like this be taken seriously?

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