This week, the local news had several reports about a group of five students who were suspended from Pascack Valley High School for forming a white supremacist club unleashing “a stream of hateful, racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs” that included drawing swastikas in school, as well as posting white supremacy ideology on social media. “WP” stood for “White Power” as the group’s motto carved into various places around the school, and the three fingered "W" salute was used at sports events. PVHS is mostly white. In fact, the school of 1240 students is 86% white, with asians and latinos making up most of the rest of the student body, and less than 1% of the students identify as black. That is less than 12 students according to the state enrollment records.
Some of the news reports suggested that the WP slogans were not there to disrespect PVHS students of color, but were aimed towards other high schools - sports rivals with larger black populations. Or perhaps it was just a reaction to the recent black/white protests and riots emphasized in the news. Or perhaps it is simply a few teenagers feeling power in a relatively safe place, i.e., where they are already part of the majority.
Does it really matter why the “club” was formed?
What matters more is the response of the other 99.95% of the students. (Five students out of 1240 is less than a ½ of 1%.) While the news reports focused on this tiny group of students’ behavior – the majority of PVHS students began a campaign “Bringing Respect Back to the Valley”. The school officials have also promoted acceptance and tolerance throughout the school year by bringing in a speaker from Rwanda who talked about genocide, and offering courses in LGBT and gender bias issues led by students.
The mural the students have placed at the entrance of the school emphasizes the words “motivate” “appreciation” “forgiveness” and “kindness” and students signed their names to promote peace and understanding.
When I first explored local topics to address as our Public Theology Advocate, I asked many people if the Pascack Valley was accepting of diversity – and I was emphatically told by nearly everyone I interviewed that there was no issue with diversity acceptance here – especially in our high school. A few people were very emphatic about it - almost insulted that I would suggest otherwise. Being human, my first reaction to this week's news of the five students was “I told you so”. But, I quickly realized that the student body at large was accepting of diversity. And it made me humble and proud to live here.
Humble, because of my human reaction (to better understand, please read my May 7th blog post "Love Your Neighbor, We Are All Human"). Proud because the majority of students were not complacent about the hate promoted by a few individuals. The majority of students stood up and gave voice to respect and love. If we could all do the same, there would be no need for a Public Theology Advocate team.
Matthew 19:14 (NIV): Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for Justice. Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.
In Christ's Peace, Lisa
Here are some links to articles about this incident at Pascack Valley High School