Dozens of students walked out of their Kansas high school in protest of the way administrators handled a fight where a white boy shouted racial slurs and punched a Black girl.
According to the Kansas City Star, students marched outside of Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village on Nov. 29 at 11 a.m., chanting, “We want change,” “Have our backs,” and “How many more times?”
They also held signs reading, “We demand action! Protect students of color,” “We don’t feel safe,” and “Take action now.”
Students described the recent confrontation as a hate crime that left the Black girl hospitalized with a fractured nose. However, some of the high school students said it was only the latest in a long line of racist acts that went unpunished by school officials, including pupils using slurs toward other students.
“This has been an ongoing issue with racism at East. There are multiple situations that have happened over and over again,” said senior Charlize Littlejohn. “I think we’re all just really tired of trying to get change and it just not happening. We’re just exhausted. Trying to go to class, it really affects us.”
Littlejohn said the brawl between the two sophomore students erupted in the hallway last week. A video obtained by The Star shows a Black female student walking away from what seems to be a verbal altercation with another student.
Then, a white male student — who a handful of classmates said was not engaged in the prior altercation — interjects, urging her to “shut the **** up.”
He lunges at the female student as she walks toward him, yelling the N-word. Then he shoves her, and they begin punching each other.
School leaders eventually broke up the fight after a group of students in the corridor called for assistance. Student onlookers yelled at the male student for shoving the female first and using the N-word against her.
The female student was not present at Monday’s demonstration, but students said she drove by and waved to show appreciation for her classmates’ support. Littlejohn noted the female student has not yet returned to school.
District spokeswoman Kristin Babcock said she couldn’t comment on the incident because of student privacy concerns. She did, however, state that they take incidences of racism and physical assault very seriously. “We do have a code of conduct in place,” she added, “and we follow our policies and procedures.”
It is unclear how the school penalized the white boy, but students at the rally said he received a suspension they believed was insufficient.
“There was no follow-up, no email was sent, and no announcement was made,” said Littlejohn, expressing her dissatisfaction with administrators’ handling of the incident. “It was not recognized.”
Littlejohn claimed students have attempted to speak with administrators, who never seem to want to do anything about the racist incidents at the school. She claimed that because individuals aren’t getting disciplined, no one would take anything seriously and continue believing they can get away with it.
Students urged school administrators to take stricter measures to combat racism and to impose harsher penalties for discrimination and hate speech.
According to the Star, Shawnee Mission East has around 1,700 scholars and is approximately 83% Caucasian. Kansas State Department of Education data indicates that over 8% of students are Hispanic, roughly 5% are multiracial, and less than 2% are Black. In the Shawnee Mission district, 61% of kids are white, 20.5% are Hispanic, and 9% are Black.
“We were all there. We all watched it. It was emotional and it was traumatizing,” Littlejohn said of last week’s incident, the Star reported. “I want things to change. Everybody who was there watching it, they’re not going to feel safe. I’m not going to feel safe in class. Because that could have been anybody. He could have done it to anybody. And I think that’s just scary something like that can happen inside of a school.”