In a show of solidarity, hundreds of students at an elite Manhattan high school on New York City’s Upper East Side staged a protest Wednesday following a racist gesture toward an African-American freshman involving a tampon and the N-word.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School is still reeling after two students — one white and the other Middle Eastern — scrawled “N—–s don’t have rights” on a tampon wrapper and handed it to a Black 9th grade girl, the New York Daily News reported. The student, who is the only African-American freshman at the highly selective public school, handed the tampon back to her harassers and told her friends, who then alerted school administrators.
The two girls are now suspended.
“It was blatant racism, pure straight racism,” senior Saniya Darby, who witnessed the girls pass the offending note, told local station ABC 7. “I told the principal all of this.”
Recalling the March 15 incident, Darby said the girls strategically hid the note inside the tampon’s applicator, then tossed in the garbage to “get rid of the evidence.”
“These are people we trusted,” freshman Stefanie Mitchell told the station. “And to see them do this to her, it’s really bad.”
On Monday, the school — where just 3 percent of students are black and 64 percent are white — canceled classes and Principal Dimitri Saliani planned community discussions with parents, students and staff about the incident. Students were discontented with the principal’s efforts, however, and organized a sit-in Tuesday to demand improvements to the school’s racial climate.
As reported by the Daily News, nearly 100 students occupied a hallway at the school for a class period before vacating the space around 3:15 p.m. One student told the newspaper he skipped Spanish class to attend the protest, but said it was all worth it.
“Stuff like this, it happens almost on a daily basis and it goes unheard,” sophomore Jesse DeJesus said. It’s not just in this school, it’s in every public school in America. It takes for someone to be hurt so badly for action to be taken.”
Several students and administrators also sat for a two-and-a-half-hour meeting co-organized by community group Project Reach, according to Yahoo News.
The New York Department of Education is now investigating the incident.
“Racism and bullying have no place in our schools, and the school investigated this serious incident,” DOE spokeswoman Miranda Bardot told ABC 7 in a statement. “Principal Saliani sent a school-wide letter and met with families to reaffirm the importance of a safe and supportive school environment, and we are continuing to provide support to the school community.”
Bardot added that Eleanor Roosevelt High, or “El-Ro” as students call it, will offer bias training for its entire staff, as well as workshops for students.
School leaders said they hope to spark a dialogue about racism at the school, but for many the effort is long overdue.
“As one of the small minorities in this school I feel really bad and disappointed,” 15-year-old Saviha Ahmed told the Daily News. “But I’m also not surprised because in our school there are also many kids who, like, they don’t speak about it, but they have racist views.”
Watch more in the video below.