One thing the global pandemic hasn’t stopped: people spewing hateful, discriminatory rhetoric, whether it’s coming from elected officials, folks showing up at school board meetings, or, sadly, even students themselves. The good news is students aren’t putting up with hate speech anymore—at least not at one high school just outside of Portland, Oregon.
As reported by NBC News, hundreds of high schoolers actually staged a walkout protest after a sickening video by a white classmate went viral on TikTok. (As a note, the video is not linked in this article.) The video includes a white Tigard High School student saying a number of racial slurs against Latino, AAPI, Muslim, and Black people as another student filmed the video and encouraged her to continue. The school is aware of the video, with some administrators even participating in the walkout, but it’s unclear what disciplinary action might go down. And students—fairly—are demanding real answers and accountability.
Sean Sorko-Ram, a 17-year-old senior at the high school, told the outlet that she recognized the girl in the video from school right away, saying she’d seen her around the school’s office in the past. “I’m desensitized,” Sorko-Ram said about hearing the onslaught of slurs in the video, before sharing that she was called the N-word during her freshman year by a peer in her English class.
“In that moment,” she recalled. “You just kind of sit there and you’re like, ‘What?’”
In speaking to local outlet KGW during the walkout last Wednesday, student Jordyn Smith said one can’t walk “15 feet without being called a racial slur,” stressing that it’s “not OK to be called the n-word, to be called monkeys, to be called anything to anyone. It's not OK at all."
Sorko-Ram, for what it’s worth, believes students should be expelled for hate speech. According to KGW, many students who walked out want to see the student in question suspended.
According to the school superintendent, Sue Rieke-Smith, a student has never been expelled for hate speech that she can recall. Rieke-Smith told the outlet the video was “disgusting” and “horrific,” and doesn’t represent the values of the school. Still, she can’t promise the student involved will be booted.
Rieke-Smith didn’t specify what, precisely, might happen in this situation, and also didn’t confirm if the student has been removed from the campus. She did say the range of disciplinary action could run from an in-school suspension to an out-of-school suspension, to something else. She told KGW that the staff is receiving additional training on recognizing microaggressions and hate speech and that students will have additional support available to discuss the video.
It’s unclear whether the school is somewhat limited because the video was filmed while off-campus or for another reason. What is clear is that students are (rightfully) hurt, concerned, and scared.
The youth are clearly our future, and many, many, many of them are standing up for the right side of justice. But they shouldn’t have to do it alone, and adults need to take accountability for perpetuating the kind of racism that’s clearly being demonstrated to young people who spew (and act on) this hate. It’s not enough to just say, “The kids are alright!”—we need to actually create lasting change, support, and take action on behalf of people who are being harmed, not wait for a generation to grow up to do it.
You can watch local coverage of the protest below, including some interviews with students.