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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”