This interview was conducted on Tuesday, May 23rd after the second sit-in and ACC event; for any inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview features one of the students who stood up on Monday's assembly, Loreal Williams (II).
Jaime: Ultimately, was it persistent systemic racism and a culmination of emotion that led to this outburst of emotion, or was it these most recent racist actions which lit the fuse?
Loreal: Personally, during my three years at Milton I have endured a lot of micro and macro aggressions, so I do believe that frustration has accumulated over the years. And I believe that there were multiple things that happened right after one another over the course of the past three weeks, which included the blackface and yellowface images and what happened on center street after a brother-sister bonding meeting when a driver hurled a racial slur at us; these instances exacerbated our frustration. In addition, tensions were very high after the election, and that created a tense and polarized environment both within and outside of the Milton community that heightened tensions. But in any case, I do think that the images tipped everything over the edge. And it wasn’t only the images but the administration’s reaction towards these images that frustrated us; the administration’s actions over the course of the year haven’t been effective and they have been more reactive than proactive, they aren’t attempting to account for the issue before the action happens, only when incidents occur.
Jaime: Was the administration aware that you were going to walk-out during assembly?
Loreal: No, that was our plan, kind of an outburst I guess!
Jaime: This ties back to question one. You explained before have you’ve endured a lot of racial prejudice on campus. How long, given your experience, has racial prejudice been an issue on campus?
Loreal: I definitely think that at any predominantly white institution, especially for prep schools, are facing this problem as they try to increase the diversity of the student body. So I think Milton, with these demonstrations and these actions is leading towards better inclusivity for the student body.
Jaime: Do you think inclusivity is improving at Milton?
Loreal: I don’t think inclusivity has improved yet. I think that these demonstrations and the facilitated discussions and activities are leaning towards the betterment of the school and are spurring the push for inclusivity. When you have diversity and you don’t have inclusivity it is not a good environment.
Jaime: What do you say to those who are “out of the loop,” those who don’t necessarily understand or sympathize with your movement or are ignorant about issues of race?
Loreal: We - everyone who participated in the sit-ins and the walkout - hope that those demonstrations can exhibit the range of emotions that people have been feeling since some people have stepped foot on this campus; we also hope that the demonstrations encouraged people to pick up on the micro and macro aggressions and other forms of bigotry and hate on this campus.
Jaime: Do you think that awareness and education is imperative to getting your message across?
Loreal: Yes, I think it’s difficult to hold people accountable when they are ignorant, although that’s not an excuse. I think that there need to be more activities and facilitated discussions about the background and historical context of systems of oppression so people don’t have the ability to use ignorance as an excuse for not doing or saying the right things.
Jaime: Many would say that this kind of demonstration wouldn’t happen in other schools because of certain factors. Do you agree with that statement? Do you think Milton’s student environment allowed for this protest to happen?
Loreal: I definitely think that we have leaders and determined people in this community who wanted to organize this and who are very capable when it comes to organizing these kinds of large demonstrations. I have heard people say that this wouldn’t happen in a public school, but it definitely would. I think it is just lack of awareness, but there are numerous cases of student demonstrations and protests on campuses across the country in response to cases of hatred and bigotry in that school community. You see it on college campuses, you see it on high school campuses, both public and private. It is common knowledge that there is power in numbers, and I think that power can override administrators.
Jaime: Do you believe in affective ed. classes? Do you think they are effective at addressing issues of race and privilege? Additionally, what can the classes improve on in the future to better address these issues?
Loreal: I definitely believe in affective education classes, and I do think they are capable of being great, informative classes and really develop growth. However, I do find that the classes aren’t perfect. After speaking to friends about affective ed classes I’ve noticed that discussion topics and quality of discussion vary on a class-by-class basis. I also find that some teachers are more passionate or more knowledgeable about the topic than others. I think that some of the main issues affective ed. classes face include a lack of engagement from students who are in the class or a sense of apathy towards the topic at hand. To me, there seems to be this disconnect between students who are in a majority or “unmarginalized” group and those who are marginalized. Often people in the majority recognize these issues of systemic oppression but don’t think that the issues affect people in the Milton community. If we can make that connection and help people recognize that their peers are suffering from systemic oppression people will be more likely to engage and contribute in affective ed. classes. Empathy is important in all social justice work.
Jaime: Were you satisfied by the administration’s response/answers to your demands?
Loreal: We gave the administration a lot of material to think through, and we gave them a lot of things to commit to. Hopefully those commitments they made will be fulfilled and improve the school community. I’m not sure if I was necessarily “pleased” with the response, but it’s good to have the administration validate our concerns and directly address the questions we asked instead of giving broad, rhetorical responses like ones we’ve received in the past. What I did take away from the response and the conversations the community is having is that the administration is now acknowledging these issues and committing to taking action on these issues, so I do believe that we have progressed in that regard.
Jaime: What disciplinary actions should be taken against the perpetrators? Is a DC appropriate? Are you concerned about the precedent a DC would set?
Loreal: I’d rather not answer that question directly. However, I will say that the handbook is clear about what racial harassment is, and I would encourage the administration to expand and clarify those definitions in addition to providing supplemental material and clear guidelines on how to handle situations like these in the future.
Jaime: What are the boundaries on free speech in your opinion?
Loreal: You can say whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from institutional consequences and social repercussions for what you say. In addition, free speech can be limited extensively at Milton, seeing as it is a private institution.
Jaime: Do you accept the apology given today (Tuesday)?
Loreal: Yes I do. I don’t want to put her on a pedestal because she ultimately did the right thing, as that’s something people expected for a while now. I’m content that she willingly decided to do the right thing and make a public apology to the Milton community.