Racism survey at Waynesboro High

February 01, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Racism survey at Waynesboro High

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - In November, the editor of the Waynesboro Area Senior High School student newspaper, prompted by seeing students wearing Confederate flags on their clothes, wrote an editorial titled "The Shadow of Racism."

The newspaper also asked about 120 of the school's 1,350 students if they thought racism was a problem. About 70 percent said it was.

The survey was unscientific and polled only a fraction of the student population, but it raised a flap that reached all the way to the Waynesboro School Board.


The school's administration conducted its own student survey through the school's social studies classes "for a good cross-section," and tapped answers from 377 students, said Principal Larry Bricker.

The survey explained racism as discrimination or hatred based on race through language or acts, including name-calling, directed at minorities.

Minority students make up less than 10 percent of the school's population, and fewer than half of that number are black, Bricker said.

The survey results, reported to the board on Jan. 20, showed that 46 percent of the students polled said racism is a slight problem, 25 percent called it moderate and 7 percent believed it is serious.

About 23 percent said they never saw acts of racism in the school, 52 percent said it occurred once in while, 13 percent said they witnessed it often and 7 percent said it was a daily occurrence.

Ten percent of the student population feels that more than half of the students have racist attitudes, the survey said.

Another 42 percent said they believe the Confederate flag is a racist symbol, while 57 percent said it isn't, the survey said.

Swati Parikh, editor of the student newspaper, said in her editorial that the Confederate flag "has always represented to me the epitome of racism."

The issue of the Confederate flag first surfaced at a football game early in the season last year between Waynesboro High and a Harrisburg, Pa., high school with a predominantly black student population.

According to Bricker, a half-dozen students and nonstudents drove through the parking lot in a pickup truck waving a Confederate flag.

"It stirred up some feelings," Bricker said.

Later, the flag began showing up in the windows of students' cars in the school parking lot and on clothes worn by students in school.

Bricker banned wearing the flag in school.

"There have been no violations and no serious reaction," he said.

Hector Gomez, a school board member, agrees with the ban.

"Wearing it in school may not be a big deal for most students, but if it upsets some, then it becomes a big deal. The Confederate flag won't go away. It's part of our history, but we have to be sensitive about people's feelings toward it or we won't create a good atmosphere for education," Gomez said.

"In any school population you have leaders. If they are militant, you have problems," Bricker said. "We have students with racial attitudes that are not healthy, but it's a reflection of community attitudes. The school does the best it can to promote better attitudes, but it's not something we can force.

"We can have a positive influence, but we can't reach every student," Bricker said.

School officials are reacting to the survey in several ways.

Sensitivity training programs for teachers and students are planned and trained speakers will address faculty and students.

"The real impact will come when we get teachers to deal with the issue of racism in their regular curriculum," Bricker said.

He praised an elective course on minorities in history for seniors taught by Darwin Seiler, a social studies teacher.

When it was first offered five years ago, only 15 students signed up. Today there are four classes with more than 75 students, Seiler said.

"Students learn to think about things like racism and how to avoid thinking of people as stereotypes. They learn to deal with things they never had to deal with before," he said.

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