A high school student at a prestigious Boston public school says she was shocked when a white teacher allegedly approached her during a lesson and said, "What's up my n*****?"
Destinee Wornum, 16, added that the teacher followed up the slur with a question. "She asked me how I felt," a visibly upset Wornum told WCVB. "I said, 'Honestly, I would probably be suspended because I wanted to get up and hit you.'" The Boston Herald has more:
[Wornum] recalled being one of three black students in the English class that day and being shocked when the teacher made her way over to her desk and blurted out the offensive question. “I’m looking at her like blank-faced because I didn’t know what to say and I was at a loss for words,” Wornum recalled."
Wornum said that after she responded to the question, her teacher laughed, and that she's never apologized.
According to Wornum, the incident happened in October, during a Boston Latin School (BLS) class discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Mark Twain novel is laden with the offensive word, and censored editions have prompted controversy over how the classic should be read and discussed today.
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Wornum didn't tell anyone what happened until January. She explained to The Boston Globe in a recent interview that she didn't speak out because, “I honestly didn’t know how to handle it because it was like, how do I approach my adult teacher on a situation like this? What would that mean for my grade? What would it mean for my future at BLS?” Wornum added, “I was in fear of what could happen because it’s like I’m a girl from Dorchester and I ought to be grateful because I go to BLS. That’s the way that they make it seem.”
Wornum decided to come forward after other black students starting discussing negative experiences at the school. Student members of the group BLS BLACK (Black leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge) encouraged their peers to share their stories using the hashtag #BlackAtBLS.
"We are here to make our voices heard, to show BLS administration and everyone that we refused to be silenced, and we're not afraid to speak up," said BLS senior and president of BLS BLACK Meggie Noel in a video posted to YouTube in mid-January.
What allegedly happened to Wornum was included in a federal complaint that accuses BLS of civil rights violations, per the Globe.
In February, the Boston Public Schools' (BPS) Office of Equity said that a review of seven "student incidents related to race and ethnicity" found that the BLS acted incorrectly in just one, when a student was called a racial slur and threatened with lynching. According to BPS:
The substantiated violation was in relation to a student using a racial slur and making a threatening remark toward another student. The review found BLS did not adequately investigate the incident, discipline the student, nor take appropriate steps to ensure the support and safety of the targeted student.
BPS found that when students presented administration with a binder printed out, racist tweets posted by members of the BLS community, the administration reacted appropriately:
Four BLS students who made racially insensitive remarks on Twitter, which were contained in the binder, were required to meet one-on-one with administrators to discuss their conduct, the review found. There were no further issues with the four students after these meetings.
In a statement, BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang said “racial intolerance should never be accepted in any Boston public school,” adding, “This is deeply personal to me as someone who had similar experiences growing up as an immigrant in the United States. I am fully committed to ensuring that no student should ever feel unsafe in any of our schools. BLS must take a critical examination of itself, in particular around issues of race and culture.”
But some activists aren't pleased with the results of the review, and are calling for BLS headmaster Lynn Mooney Teta to resign.
With regard to Wormund's allegation, BPS said in a statement:
Boston Public Schools is devoted to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all students. The Boston Public Schools’ Office of Equity is committed to investigating any incident of racism or bias it receives. The Office of Equity, as part of its ongoing investigation into this matter, reached out to the family and attempted to gain permission to speak with their child as soon as they became aware of the allegation.
Wornum's mother, Rosalind Wornum, met with Teta to discuss the incident on Wednesday. Rosalind thinks the teacher should be fired. Teta told her that it's up to the BPS Equity Board to determine whether to terminate the teacher's employment, which the heamaster called "unacceptable."
When Rosalind Wornum learned about what happened, she told the Herald, she was extremely disturbed. "I was very upset…and was angry at the teacher, angry at the school to know that there's ongoing stuff going on prior to me finding out. For my daughter, I just couldn't imagine how she felt. That's humiliating and embarrassing."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.