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Racist incidents at Southwick Regional School anger residents

Mandile Mpofu
Racist incidents at Southwick Regional School anger residents
Six eighth-grade students at Southwick Regional School held a “mock slave auction” on Snapchat in early February in which they targeted students of color. PHOTO: SOUTHWICK REGIONAL SCHOOL

In recent weeks, school administrators, police and the local district attorney have investigated a mock slave auction held by Southwick Regional School students on Snapchat in the western Massachusetts town.

Another racial incident has once again embroiled the school in scandal.

In mid-March, the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office criminally charged six eighth-grade students who held a “mock slave auction” on Snapchat in early February in which they targeted students of color, multiple newspapers reported.

Hampden County District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni said the youths participated in a “hateful, racist online chat that included heinous language, threats and a mock slave auction, according to the Boston Globe.”

The charges included a threat to commit a crime, interference with civil rights and witness interference.

Less than two days after the six eighth-grade students were charged, the Globe reported that racist language was found on a bathroom wall in the school, compounding an already tense situation. Jennifer Willard, superintendent of the  Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District, shared news of the incident via email but did not specify what the language said.

“The district will NOT tolerate this type of hate and we all MUST work together in order to affect change in our communities,” Willard wrote, the Globe reported. “The district will remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a safe school environment for all staff and students.”

In the message, Willard said the incident had been reported to the police and was under investigation. She and Gulluni are among those who have denounced the students’ behavior in both instances, but some say the situation represents a broader issue.

Bishop Talbert Swan II, president,
Greater Springfield NAACP. PHOTO: MJONES3927

Bishop Talbert Swan II, President of the Greater Springfield NAACP, told WWLP-TV  that the bathroom incident “speaks to the fact that this district has not been forthright in terms of holding persons accountable for this type of behavior for so long that students feel like this is acceptable.”

The Greater Springfield NAACP filed a complaint regarding the Snapchat incident with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Problem Resolution System, according to the Globe.

Swan has been vocal about the matter on social media. He shared an article about the Snapchat conversation with an accompanying message that read, “White students in Southwick, MA hold an online ‘slave auction’ to bid on fellow Black students.” Swan told WBUR that the bullying was not a one-time occurrence, but rather pointed to the persistence of racism, despite those who might say it no longer exists.

“These racist attitudes are fermented in these young people through their environment, through their parents, through their teaching, through what they’re exposed to,” Swan said. “No 13-year-old just starts calling people the ‘n word.’ They learn that somewhere.”

In a statement to the Banner, Swan said, “For far too long the Southwick School District has failed to protect Black students for systemic, repeated, and recurrent conduct committed by students that cause measurable physical harm or emotional distress. For years, Black students have been subjected to bullying that has been lewd, indecent, obscene, threatening, and that has advocated for illegal conduct.

He added that with the criminal charges, victims have “received a measure of justice for the traumatic ordeal they have had to endure. The decision … is a call for accountability, not only for those involved, but for a complicit school district, school committee, and community that has been apathetic to the concerns of Black families and the families of other students that have faced bullying and harassment within the district.”

Allyson Lopez, whose daughter was one of the victims of the Snapchat bullying, told the Globe that the incident was “indicative of a systemic failure within our school district to address and eradicate racism” and that her daughter’s mental health has been affected.

The bathroom incident has once again negatively impacted her daughter, Lopez told the Globe. She lauded Gulluni “for your diligent investigation and the courageous decision to prosecute the six unnamed individuals involved in the recent events.”

The Southwick Regional School is located near Springfield on the Connecticut border, and its student body is 89% white, according to state data.

The school’s homepage lists “Resources and conversation starters around bias, discrimination, and racism,” including links to the Anti-Defamation League and National Museum of African American History and Culture. It also lists a “non-discrimination commitment” that states that the school does not allow discrimination, and those experiencing it should feel free to talk about it without fear of retaliation.

Lopez told the Globe that the school let her daughter down, further adding to the trauma she has experienced. The mother asked that school officials provide specific details about the bathroom incident and outline any next steps.

mock slave auction, racism, Southwick Regional School