Letter: Change the culture at NHS

Staff Writer
The Kansan

Dear Members of the Newton USD 373 Public Schools Board of Education,

Newton Rising, a local grassroots accountablity action team, is calling on the USD 373 Newton Public Schools Board of Education to take immediate action regarding the disturbing racism and rape culture festering within your school district.

After a national outcry for justice against police brutality, issues concerning racism and rape culture have quickly become a popular local topic on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Disturbing videos have begun to circulate online of Newton High School 2020 graduates and current students using racial slurs. These videos were posted by the students on their own private Instagram accounts, which is known as a finsta: a shortened term for Fake Instagram. These accounts are often used by teens and young adults to share more candid posts, only with their close friends. Yet as we all know, images and videos posted online, even if meant to be private, have the possibility to be documented and circulated by peers.

We have two videos we would like to bring to your attention. In one video, two teenangers, seemingly inebriated, speak into the camera sharing that they had just been pulled over. One says, “It was a f**king white guy. Happy it wasn’t a n*gger.” In the second video, current and former Newton High students engage in blatantly racist behavior, as well as appear to be under the influence of alcohol. The current and former students use the N-word, both “hard R” and “‘a.” The boys peer pressure their female friend to say “f**k n*ggers.” All the while, laughing and cheering when she attempts to say it.

Although the language and behavior was already alarming, the severity of the situation increased when one of these students was arrested and charged with four counts of violent, sexual crimes. This recent arrest started an uprising of current and former students bullying and cyber-bullying the survivor of these crimes – encouraging Newton High students to show up to the court hearing in support of the perpetrator, encouraging anyone who has her private information to share it online, call her names and harassing her online by talking about her sex life and encouraging threats towards advocates and community members who believe her.

The bullying and harassment of sexual assault victims has previously been exhibited within your school district. During the 2018-2019 school year, NHS faced similar issues involving another rape case. The administration allowed students to wear shirts that said “free [rapist’s name]” and chant those words at football games, where the survivor was also in attendance and there to dance. Have you ever had to hear “free [your rapist’s name]” at a public event? Can you even imagine what that must feel like? Why does this district allow those inappropriate shirts, but other items of clothing have been deemed inappropriate for girls? Does the Newton School District sound like a safe place for BIPOC or victims of sexual violence? Shouldn’t all district employees be equipped with empathy and compassion for others?

These are not isolated events. Since these videos have surfaced, dozens of young girls and BIPOC have begun to share their heartbreaking stories about the trauma they endured at NHS due to the lack of consequences on perpetrators of racism and rape culture from the administration. Victims have also said they were scared to come forward due to the fear of what might happen, ie., the previously mentioned bullying and harassment.

As the Board of Education, you should know what is happening in your school district. It has become painfully obvious that the Newton Public School system does not foster an inclusive environment for black and brown students, victims of sexual assault, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized students. There is a pattern of behavior stretching back decades that perpetuates a harmful environment within the Newton Public School District. We ask you this: What will you do now that everyone is watching?

We will no longer accept your excuses. You cannot continue to cherry-pick which issues you want to partake in. You cannot police the way young women dress and continue to pretend like that doesn’t contribute to rape culture. You cannot keep dismissing students of color and their experiences under your watch. You cannot allow your students to think bullying a victim of sexual assault is appropriate.

Are you educated in the racial and sexual trauma your students have endured? NHS fosters a system that blames young women for showing their shoulders and legs instead of teaching young men the meaning of consent. Do you think your students are sexually educated? NHS employs a sexual education teacher that breaks the laws of separation between church and state by teaching abstinence based on his personal religious belief structure. NHS fosters a system that does not have clear consequences for racist behavior. Do you think these kids are truly educated in all the ways racism is built into our society? Does it seem like they know the history behind the hateful words they use?

If you continue to turn a blind eye to these issues deeply rooted within your school district, things will only continue to get worse. When others see there have not been consequences, sheep will follow and thus the cycle continues.

Our group, Newton Rising, has a desire to make the Newton Public School District a safer place for minorities, survivors of sexual assault and all other marginalized students. We believe that our education system should include education on anti-racism, rape culture, and American history that centers Indigenous people. We are not asking for a lot. We are simply asking you to start showing the children that you genuinely care about each and every one of them equally.

So, the question again, what will you do now that everyone is watching?

— Natalia Ramos-Thaw, Newton Rising