A student at Desert Vista High School in Arizona who was in a now viral photo of six students spelling out the n-word with their lettered shirts has publicly apologized at a rally for her part in the fiasco, the Arizona Republic reports.
About 50 people showed up outside the high school Monday afternoon to protest the slur, which was posted to Snapchat and drew national ire. Rachel Steigerwald (who was the “R” in the photo) nudged her way to the center of the group and apologized, insisting that she was not racist.
“I have come here to say that I know people have been offended from what I did, and I’ve come here to say I am incredibly, incredibly sorry,” she said, according to the news site. “I have love for everyone in my heart. I am not a racist, and I am asking everyone for forgiveness.”
The Rev. Jarrett Maupin, who organized the protest outside the Phoenix-area school, contacted all six students who posed in the photo and their families through letters and social media. The Steigerwalds answered and Rachel’s father, John, agreed that she could speak at the rally.
This all started last Friday, when seniors at the school were posing on the bleachers for their senior photo. Six girls, Rachel included, all wearing black shirts with gold lettering, rearranged themselves to spell out the word “n–ger.” The two g’s in the word were subbed out with asterisks.
On Monday the school principal initiated a sensitivity project and a cultural-awareness program and also urged students to converse about the issue. After Rachel spoke, some protesters thanked her, but tensions still ran high. Eventually, she, her family and Maupin left.
“Sometimes we have to make that first call, even when we’re not ready to forgive yet,” Maupin told the Arizona Republic. “Intelligent people will accept the apology … and understand that forgiveness doesn’t mean that it’s all better.”
And some certainly don’t think an apology is enough. Since the photo caught the media’s attention Friday, a petition has been started to get all six girls expelled and the principal to resign. That petition, on Change.org, had collected more than 40,000 signatures as of 11 a.m. EST Tuesday.
Maupin says that he has been working with civil rights attorney Benjamin Taylor to “present a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, demanding an investigation and federal oversight for the Tempe Union High School District until Black students can be guaranteed a racism-free learning environment,” the Arizona Republic notes.
“This act of intentional racism is inexcusable,” Maupin said in a Friday press release. “Black students have been complaining about racial hostility directed towards them on this campus for some time.”