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Debate of Racial Hostility at Boston Latin School

Debate of Racial Hostility at Boston Latin School

As schools across the nation open up discussions on race issues in education, Boston Latin School, the city’s oldest and most prestigious public school, is facing an investigation of alleged racism triggered by a YouTube video posted by a group of students.

The video, posted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was constructed by Boston Latin students in an attempt to shed light on racial hostility, inadequate faculty and administrative prevention, and the lack of punishment for racial slurs. The students, Meggie Noel, 17, and Kylie Webster-Cazeau, 18, expressed that the racial insensitivity they and their fellow black students experience occurs on school grounds as well as on social media.

Webster-Cazeu added “The fact that our administration failed to publicly denounce this behavior, or even say something to the students making the comments that was effective, has created an unsafe and racially hostile learning environment for students of color at B.L.S”

Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta responded without challenging these accounts. “If we are falling short for some of our students, then we are falling short for all of our students,” she said.

The accusations made through the video quickly caught the attention and concern of Boston city officials. Mayor Martin J. Walsh demanded that the school investigate these claims.

“I’ve asked them to look at the district as a whole in making sure that we have a policy throughout the district that addressed the issues of race and any issue of racism,” Mr. Walsh said in an interview. “I’m assuming if there’s an issue in Latin School, it’s probably in other schools,” Walsh noted.

The student’s campaign was carried onto Twitter, using the hashtag #BlackatBLS, in an attempt to emulate the black activism at the University of Missouri that occurred at the end of last year.

A current student posted on Twitter that “5 years later [she is] wondering why teachers at Latin still can’t tell their black students apart.”

Boston Latin Superintendent Tommy Chang commented on the seriousness of the issue, while also touching on his pride in the students’ ability to effectively and peacefully approach the situation. He said, “While it is unfortunate that we continue to struggle in this city and in our schools with racial divides and tensions, I am incredibly proud to know we have students who are able to organize respectfully and advocate for themselves in a thoughtful manner and receive the attention to their concerns that they deserve.”

Boston Latin ordered desegregated transportation of white and black students on school buses in 1974. The city’s reaction to the desegregation of its highly regarded school triggered racist reactions from white families and the subsequent decrease in attendance of white students .

The school’s current student breakdown includes 9% black, 12% Hispanic, and nearly half white –  as opposed to the overall Boston public school enrollment of 42% blacks. Discrimination in the competitive admissions process to this highly-demanded school has also been called into question.

The school committee will begin to create a plan of action to address the issue of racial hostility amongst currently-enrolled students as well as the elimination of bias and discrimination in the admissions process.


The New York Times and The Boston Globe contributed to this post.


Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: Cliff.

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Debate of Racial Hostility at Boston Latin School