Oh, Arizona. You never fail to amaze. Neither do teens who don’t realize how quickly a photo posted to social media can upend their lives.
Surely by now you have seen the photo circulating on social media with six American teenage girls—flanked abreast, smiles ablaze—and the n-word plastered across their chests. Each young woman is donning a black t-shirt with a gold letter or asterisk on it. When standing together, the word “N-I-*-*-E-R” is spelled out.
Apparently, members of the senior class of Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee, a neighborhood of Phoenix, took a photo earlier that day for the yearbook spelling out “Best*You’ve*Ever*Seen*Class*of*2016.” Six of them got together later with the bright idea of standing together to spell out the n-word. Somehow the photo found its way to Instagram.
One Twitter user commented, “Just imagining the dialogue they had before taking the photo.”
And … the consequences are starting to roll in. There are unconfirmed reports that the students have been suspended for five days, but many think that this is not enough.
A Change.org petition began circulating Friday calling for the students’ explusion as well as the firing of the school’s principal. As of Saturday morning, the petition had more than 5,500 signatures.
ABC15 in Phoenix reports that parents began contacting the school on Friday, and predictably, a representative from the district weighed in, as did the superintendent.
“Words cannot express the outrage,” Jill Hanks from the Tempe Union High School District said. “What were they thinking? We had some students that made a really bad decision this morning.”
District Superintendent Kenneth Baca said, “It is unacceptable for any racial slur to be used, regardless of intent. We need to understand that words matter.”
According to ABC15, Desert Vista Principal Christine Barela sent out a letter to parents Friday that read in part:
We want to let you know we share your outrage and disappointment over the actions of a handful of our students today. We want to make it crystal clear those actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated at Desert Vista. Those actions do not represent who we are as a campus. We can assure you we will discipline these students in accordance with district policy and our student handbook. While we don’t discuss individual discipline, we can tell you that in addition, the obvious need for sensitivity training will be addressed.
It should be noted that in February 2014, a black teacher, Cicely Cobb, filed a federal lawsuit against Desert Vista High School and the Tempe Union High School District, alleging racial discrimination by students and a lack of action by administrators when she reported such incidents.
News12 reports that a local pastor and civil rights activist, the Rev. Jarrett Maupin, said in a news release that he and others were going to meet with Baca to discuss the incident on Monday.
Maupin said in the statement that the image should “give everyone a cause for concern.” The release also promised that if the parents and students aren’t satisfied with the school’s and district’s response, they may protest and file charges with the U.S. Department of Education.
The Desert Vista Black Student Union posted its own photo on Twitter on Friday with the comment, “The incident that occurred today at Desert Vista High School does not reflect the beliefs of the student body!”