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News >  K-12 education

Racist meme prompts Gonzaga Prep walkout

UPDATED: Tue., April 27, 2021

The administration at Gonzaga Preparatory School is considering how to move forward in the wake of a racist incident that led to a student walkout during last week’s spirit week activities.

As part of the activities, students were invited on Wednesday to dress up as their favorite meme. Several chose to bring and distribute paper crowns from Burger King – a reference to a video from last year of a man wearing a crown and yelling a racial epithet while on an airplane.

While some students who wore the crowns didn’t understand the crowns’ significance, others did, according to a letter sent to parents.

Some students believed the act was racist and held a walkout Friday morning that included Principal Cindy Reopelle and several teachers.

The letter, written by school president Michael Dougherty, said, “We acknowledge the suffering that our students of color have experienced because of racism. It is our goal to inspire students to stand up for justice and to work for reconciliation.”

In a separate letter to students, Principal Cindy Reopelle said, “A week that was intended to be lighthearted and celebratory suddenly became difficult, hurtful and confusing.”

“Some students actively went to Burger King to get crowns and others were unknowingly handed crowns to wear,” Reopelle said. “For some, the intent of this act was to hurt and for others it was ignorance to what this meme represented.”

“Either way, the impact of wearing the crowns is hurtful to our community, for as Scripture tells us, when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part of the Gonzaga Prep family hurts, then the whole family hurts,” Reopelle said.

The Gonzaga Prep Associated Student Body also weighed in with a statement urging students “to stand up for your peers when they are being put in positions of harm. We are a community and we need to stand together against bigotry.”

Dougherty declined to comment Monday on possible next steps, including discipline and further engagement with the student body.

In his letter to parents, Dougherty said that the school “is in conversation with the students who were involved, and their parents.”

The letter concluded: “The school’s disciplinary policies are rooted in the philosophy of restorative justice, which seeks to educate students to reflect on the consequences of their actions, make amends for the injury that was caused, and develop a broader perspective.”

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