Graffiti in bathroom sparks larger conversation about racism at New Trier

Incident at Northfield brings attention to race at New Trier

Rebecca Lee

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After a racial slur written on a Northfield bathroom stall by a student was discovered, staff and students have entered a larger conversation about racism at New Trier.

The week of Nov. 27, a freshman wrote a racial slur containing the word “n—–” on the outside of a stall door in a bathroom on the Northfield campus.

After a teacher discovered and reported the graffiti, administrators ensured that no other students could enter the bathroom.

Three different staff and faculty members saw the graffiti before Physical Plant Services removed it, according to Superintendent Paul Sally and Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Timothy Hayes.

Administrators identified the perpetrator based on footage from security cameras outside of the bathroom. He was given consequences dictated by both the discipline policy regarding graffiti as well as the discipline policy regarding harassment of other students based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, according to Sally and Hayes.

Although students seemed to agree that what happened was upsetting and disappointing, not all of them were surprised.

“I hate to say this, but I’m not surprised at all. I’ve heard people say it before,” said senior Annie Eidelman.

In fact, some say that such language is a part of the way that some students normally speak.

“Since 6th or 7th grade, I’ve heard people use the ‘n’ word and other racial slurs daily,” added sophomore Reilly Oh.

The New Trier student body is 85 percent white, 7 percent Asian, 4 percent Hispanic, and 0.6 percent black. The remaining 3 percent of students are American Indian and multiracial, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

“It’s not hard to see that we’re not diverse. I think everyone is aware of the fact that we’re not diverse, but I don’t think everyone is fully aware of the consequences that that can have,” said junior Nicki Montenegro.

Student Alliance president Jacob Imber said racism and race are difficult topics to understand in a community like New Trier. “Our conversations about racism as a current event tend to be more divided than productive, if they exist at all. I think members of the community forget that we don’t live in a post-racial world, and racism is still an issue,” he said.

Students of minority races shared that they have had negative experiences, varying in degree, with race in their time at New Trier.

“I’m Hispanic, and a lot of times people genuinely think that I am Mexican because they assume that if I am some type of Hispanic, I am Mexican,” said Montenegro.

“I hear mostly ignorant comments or jokes that I don’t find that funny,” said senior Ursula Qureshi.

Specifically African American students shared that they have encountered racial slurs on various occasions prior to this incident.

“My sophomore year, I went to the ETHS-New Trier football game. Two boys behind me in the student section said to me, ‘Why don’t you go join the n—– on the other team?’ I had never been called a n—– before. What was I supposed to do in that situation? I had nobody to back me up. It would be different if we went somewhere with more black people or more of a supportive group. But I just had to take it,” explained a member of the African American Club.

Administrators acknowledged issues of race that pervade the New Trier community. “Racism is all over the culture. It’s in the water we’re swimming in. It shows up as stereotypes, or misperceptions of other people, or statements that are hurtful to other people. It’s usually not that blatant,” said Hayes.

The administration is continuing to work to address these issues. “I’m not sure any of the administration or staff needed this event to know that this is an area that we need to keep working on. But it certainly was a reminder that we needed to keep working on this,” said Sally.

Students have called on the administration as well as other students to respond to this incident by reflecting on the larger issue of racism at New Trier.

“It’s important that as an educational institution, New Trier makes sure that kids are aware of the power that they hold. I think it’s important for every student to understand the impact that their words can have,” said Imber.

Students also praised efforts like All-School Seminar Day, which took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the past two years, but will not be taking place this year.

“I think New Trier needs to if not continue having days like Seminar Day, to continue having the discussions that were planned at Seminar Day,” said Imber.

Others have called for time and space to be dedicated to these discussions throughout the entire year.

“Seminar Day was the right idea, but there could be some steps to make it more integrated into the entire school year instead of one day when kids don’t have to go,” said Montenegro.

Another member of African American Club emphasized the need for conversation.

“People get really nervous when we talk about race. It’s not always comfortable to have these conversations. But these conversations are fulfilling and make me think about things from a different point of view. Understanding other people’s struggles makes you a better person.”

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