Sam is a 16-year-old from Montgomery, NJ. She enjoys playing tennis, writing and Community Service. Her favorite subject in school is History.
I had just returned from Boston after the first weekend in March. I waltzed into my second period English class ready to study Walden. Suddenly, everyone became animated with chirps of “Oh my God!” and “Wow, who does that?”
I was quickly updated: apparently someone had graffitied the back of our town’s high school with a statement expressing, for lack of better words, a distaste towards the very small African American population in our school. In addition to the school, a local Catholic church was also vandalized with anti-religious rhetoric. Clearly, this sent a massive shockwave through my school, especially through the seniors, who had just returned from their Senior Class Trip.
In the few days following, the principal called me down for a conference, along other students, as well as teachers and the vice principals. To begin, he asked us students how we felt about the graffiti. Much to my shock, no one really thought that there was an issue with racism at school, arguing that the prominence of extremely diverse groups of people should be enough evidence to show the unity within the school. On the other hand, I believed that many students at my school, while they may not harbor racist tendencies, didn’t seem to understand that blindly throwing around slurs and stereotypes (specifically, the N-word), regardless of anyone’s intent, could cause much greater harm (as manifested in this crime).
So what could we do? Clearly we needed to show that this vandalism wasn’t representative of our school without using the clichéd assembly or another morning announcement. Eventually, we came to the decision to put up two murals, one outside with handprints and the word “Community” written on it, the other inside with a pledge to act as a unified student body and to show tolerance and acceptance to our fellow students.
The response to the murals were mixed. While some thought that it was a creative idea to combat any modicum of racism going on in school, others felt that the decision was less proactive and more reactive. This argument was strengthened when the police issued a report that they apprehended the perpetrators along with cans of spray paint, implying that another graffiti tagging was planned.
Nonetheless our school is standing by its decision and the first etchings eventually were drawn up the next week. Overall, this sudden incident horrified my small town, yet it not only reinforced the importance of tolerance, but it also united us as a community and reinforced our resilience.