Education

First black student body president of expensive prep school asked to resign for talking about racism

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April V. Taylor

NewsOne is reporting that the most expensive prep school in the country, Lawrenceville, has forced their first black student body president, Maya Peterson, to step down after an Instagram post that offended some of the school’s white students.  The school’s tuition is $53,000 a year and has a history of rigidly accepting change.  The schools first black students were not admitted until the 1960s, and women were not allowed to attend until 1987.   There has also been recent backlash from some parents who feel that the schools pursuit of diversity through implementation of scholarship programs has been a distraction and caused, “the school to no longer prioritize legacy students.”  Peterson ran for student body president on a platform of “inclusion and acceptance and pride in oneself.”  As both a minority and an out lesbian, Peterson consciously reached out to students who were overlooked by other candidates.

Peterson had faced her share of controversy for pursuing the installation of a “diversity representative” to help facilitate the easing of tensions around race and gender issue discussions, as well as advocating for the implementation of gender neutral bathrooms.  Some students had gone as far has claiming that the election had been rigged to allow a woman to win.  Despite numbers being released that showed Peterson had won, some Lawrenceville students still refused to accept her.

Peterson became the target of vicious personal attacks that included students falsely reporting that she used marijuana and that she had made racist tweets about a Sikh student.  Shockingly, the school did not conduct an investigation into the release of photos of Peterson half naked in her bedroom despite the fact that Peterson reported that she had no idea who had taken the non-consensual photos.

Trying to lighten the situation, Peterson made a post of a senior photo she had taken with 10 of her friends with their fists raised in a “Black Power” salute.  Students complained about the picture, and Peterson responded with another post.  The post Peterson made in response to the complaints pictured her wearing L.L. Bean boots and a Yale University sweater while holding a hockey stick.  The picture was captioned with the hashtags #romney2016, #confederate, and #peakedinhighschool.

Peterson states that both posts were meant to be jokes, however, not everyone was laughing.  One student commented on the photo stating, “You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population.”  Peterson responded, “Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians.  If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before…”  She went on to say, “I understand why I hurt people’s feelings, but I didn’t become president to make sure rich white guys had more representation on campus.  Let’s be honest.  They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here.”

School administrators threatened Peterson with disciplinary action if she did not resign as student body president.  Dean of Students Nancy Thomas reported to the Lawrenceville student paper that a critical mass of people felt that, “it was not fitting of a student leader to make comments mocking members of the community.  Peterson feels that the backlash from the photo was simply the boiling point for tensions that stemmed from students who had a problem with Peterson being the student body president because of her race.  Peterson also reports that she was fed up with the “vicious attacks,” she faced from some of the “most privileged members of the elite school.”  She states, “I’m not saying what I did was right, but it wasn’t racist.  I was just calling those guys exactly what they are.  And Lawrenceville is the type of place where those kids are idolized.”