LETTER: Residents Support Middle School Student Who Spoke Out Against Racial Harassment

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Editor,

We write this letter in support of the Watertown middle school student who has endured repeated racist attacks by her peers. We do not know this student personally, but as a White family and longtime residents of Watertown, we want her to know that we stand with her in solidarity. This young woman, at just 13-years-old, should be applauded and encouraged for using her voice and fighting for racial justice and deserves nothing less than support from our schools and community.

Recently a local news channel covered the extensive harassment of this Black Watertown middle school student by her classmates. According to the interview, the harassment started when the student began speaking out against racism and affirming that black lives matter. The harassment was reported to school officials; however, according to the interview, no disciplinary action was taken against the offending students.

This situation is appalling. Calling the behavior of the perpetrators “harassment” or even “bullying” is side-stepping the truth of what is happening here, which is racist abuse. Calling a Black individual the n-word is an act of violence. Repeatedly targeting an individual because of their race and instilling fear for one’s safety is racist intimidation.

Only as a result of the media attention, the Superintendent and middle school principal each sent out an email to Watertown parents to voice their commitment to anti-racism and support for all students. However, these emails do not go nearly far enough to address the severity of the incident. The school failed to protect this student, and this incident shines a light on an area in which our schools and our community are faltering. The administration needs to provide more specifics as to how the school district plans to handle acts of racism moving forward and what efforts they will be taking to dismantle white supremacy in our schools. The Watertown Public Schools must immediately institute a zero-tolerance policy for all racist acts and commit to establishing antiracist policies in our schools.

Yet, the school’s response (or lack thereof) is only one part of the issue. It is time to ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to be? These questions are worth spending some time reflecting on.

It is imperative that White individuals, particularly those who are responsible for the safety and well-being of children of color, understand the deep and lasting harm caused by acts of racism. Failure to directly call out and confront white supremacy and racism head-on only serves to embolden racist beliefs and actions in our community.

“There is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.” It is ‘antiracist’… One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.” –Ibram X. Kendi

Scott and Jessica Volmer
Watertown Residents

4 thoughts on “LETTER: Residents Support Middle School Student Who Spoke Out Against Racial Harassment

  1. I think this heinous incident that was brought up during the local news broadcast is eye opening that children this young feel emboldened to act this way. I would to like to understand when these series of incidents occurred and what were the steps taken. Was this a series of recent or past events that are just coming to light now. It’s easy to pass the blame onto the administration, when we don’t know what happened to those students who perpetrated these acts of cowardice. What were there punishments? What was the outcome of the police investigation? It’s easy to be an arm chair critic and post comments without a deeper dive into the whole story while throwing the administration under the bus. These students should have to work with the school, local anti-hate groups and make amends with the community just to name a few. This incident should open a thoughtful and constructive dialogue that has tangible outcomes to prevent future incidents.

  2. Thank you, Scott & Jessica, for speaking up for the middle school student who was the target of racism and for raising the issue about what kind of community we want to be!

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