Racism at High School

On October 5th, 2020 an employee of Copper Hills posted a picture of themself in what appears to be blackface, which launched an administrative investigation. That led to an employee resigning. It can feel like racism is pressing at the boundaries and foundations of our society. It populates our social media streams, fills newspapers, and is discussed and debated in class. We have a black female vice president. Maybe it is time to talk about racism not only in our nation but also in our school. Copper Hills community members were asked about how racism affects its members and how the school handles sensitive situations. 


“Copper Hills is pretty welcoming, but you do get reminded that you’re different and realize you are a completely different race,” said Latinos In Action (LIA) president Keomy Robles. She further described how it can be hard to see racism in effect first hand, and it’s even worse when it’s targeted at you, and she said “There is nothing worse than seeing friends dealing with racism because it can be especially rough the first time it’s directed at you.”


Robles discussed a time when she felt LIA was targeted. During Paws for a Cause LIA was not able to prepare food from their culture, but another club that was not aligned with a minority group was able to prepare and serve food. Robles explained, “Someone in the administration said, ‘You can’t be going out there and just throwing cheese on tortillas and calling them quesadillas.’” 


Principal Veazie said that he wasn’t aware of the incident and couldn’t speak to the statement’s context, and that he felt the comment was not intended to be offensive. He went on to say, “I would hope that members who witnessed that and saw the response of LIA or who were members of LIA would report that to administration, and if it involved an administrative member, and they didn’t feel comfortable going to that administrative member’s colleagues, that they would come directly to me as the principal.” If there was an issue like this brought to Principal Veazie, he will investigate the claims and take the appropriate action to ensure that everyone is treated with kindness, consideration, and respect.


When administrators were asked what they were doing to help minorities feel better represented, Mr. Veazie said, “The counselors are working to develop a cultural sensitivity curriculum to help faculty and staff better understand some of the challenges that our minority students face and better serve them in a more positive and culturally sensitive way.”


Mr. Veazie said, “As a principal, what I’m most concerned about is that we must find a better way to be more inclusive and to celebrate the diversity of students.” Mr. Veazie continued, “I think there are many programs from minority groups. The chartered clubs, Black Student Union, Latinos in Action, Women’s Empowerment, People of the Pacific, … Admins make sure that the variety of student led clubs are allowed to form and function and are allowed to participate in all the school activities.”


In addition to the clubs, there are classes that directly address matters of race. Mr. Jensen, a Copper Hills history teacher who teaches an ethnic studies class, said  “Honestly, I’m grateful that Copper Hills allows me, and honestly encourages classes, like Ethnic Studies.” 


Even with these attempts to address the issues of racism, there are still problems. At Copper Hills, students aren’t the only ones that can be targeted. During virtual learning on January 26th, Ms. Oda, the LIA teacher, had people zoom bomb her class, which is where random people will join the class to wreak havoc. When asked what happened, she said that kids were zoom bombing her class with inappropriate names. “They said monkey and then the n word.” 


After this interaction, Ms. Oda contacted the Administration about the situation. Ms. Oda said that when she contacted the administrators and reported the issue, “They emailed me back and then Mr. Halliday volunteered to join my class and become one of the co-hosts so he could go through and kick people out as well. They were pretty timely and they were pretty supportive.” No students tried to Zoom bomb the later classes. 


Robles noted that when students reported incidents of racist actions, students responsible were usually issued a two-day suspension and Mr. Veazie said, “Disciplinary action tends to be unique to each individual, includes an opportunity for education on the matter, and may include suspension.” Robles feels that the students aren’t learning from their mistakes. The vice president of LIA, Kiana Tapia, said, “Education is more important than punishment. I want them to know why what they did was wrong.” 


Mr. Jensen said he agrees with Robles and said, “Are we about reforming and forgiving or about punishing?” When asked about punishments, Ms. Oda said “The goal of any type of punishment is so that they learn from it.” 


Copper Hills has a problem, probably like most high schools. Racism is a problem, has been a problem, and will probably be a problem in the near future. The question is, how do we deal with it? It seems like interested parties agree that the best way to deal with the issue is for people to learn why racism is wrong, and that means educating the population. It seems like a school would be a good place for this.