April 5, 2020

In addition to Michel, other minority students have recalled their experience with racist comments made towards them.

Natasha Johnson ’20, co-President of Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism (TEAM) Westport-Staples, a club that works towards inclusivity at Staples, believes that many experiences of microaggressions stem from a lack of education among students.

 “I think that in this age, a lot of the racism I face is more ignorance,” Johnson said.

Co-President of TEAM Westport-Staples Jax Adler ’20 recalled his experience in the Westport Public Schools [WPS] system without a teacher or administrator of color to look up to.

“I can remember going through all of elementary school and middle school and not having one black adult in the building other than a janitor,” Adler said.

Johnson believes that the responsibility to manifest change is unfairly placed on students rather than left to administrators.

“My experience is that I think that sometimes the administration expects the black students and minority students to do something about [racism],” Johnson said. “I don’t see the school actively taking steps to help us out. I am perfectly okay with promoting things and sending them whatever, but why is it always on me or us?”

Johnson recalled an incident with a student following an insensitive remark directed at her.

“I was asked by [an administrator] ‘Well what do you want me to do about it?’” Johnson said. “I didn’t really know how to respond to that. […] Of course I would like something to happen […] but sometimes I think the problem is that there’s a lot of weight put on my shoulders or other students shoulders, and at the time, I was 14. I didn’t go to college. I wasn’t a teacher.”

According to Adler, in meetings with club advisors for TEAM Westport-Staples—literacy coach Rebecca Marsick and social studies department head Lauren Francese—many instances of microaggressions are blurred as the increased frequency of the comments made towards minority students has facilitated the normalization of expressed prejudice.

“We’ll ask [students] ‘Can you give us a specific event with a specific person so we can try and do something about it?’ But people won’t even remember. They can’t even pinpoint a specific time because it happens so often,” Adler said. “Recently, I’ve started to not even say anything about it because it’s gotten to a point where if you say something about it, people take it as a joke […] They just kind of deflect from it and try to make it seem like what they said was not a problem.”

An anonymous Latina senior girl also noted an incident including an insensitive comment made by a classmate.

“[I]n my Spanish class […] we were talking about Spanish people’s jobs in other countries,” she explained, “and [a fellow student] said ‘they’re here to clean and build sh*t for us.’ I turned around and I felt so disrespected by that kid. ”

AnnaMaria Fernandez ’20 also expressed her experience as a minority at Staples High School. 

 “I have a very different experience than a lot of other people of color at Staples, but I’ve definitely heard offensive and targeted comments,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been asked if this is my real hair. People touch my hair all the time.  It’s really annoying. I’m not going to go up to you and touch your hair so that’s something that is really uncomfortable […] No one ever asks.” 

Former student Reva Kale ’19 noted instances of comments made to her by staff members.

“I’ve had people, including teachers, mistake me for other Indian people or assume that I’m friends with every Indian person in school,” Kale said. “Once, a faculty member handed me the wrong school picture [of another Indian student] and when I mentioned that they had made a mistake, I was told to keep the picture anyway because the other Indian girl was probably a friend of mine.”

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