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By Rama K. Ramaswamy
As part of Theodore Roosevelt’s Paris speech in 1910, he said, “it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…” The greater-Wellesley community did just that by attending the World of Wellesley’s coordinated community event, the first of two planned so far, dubbed “Solidarity Gathering - Wellesley Stands United Against Hate.” The event was planned in response to the series of Facebook group chat posts by a few students at Wellesley High School and elsewhere consisting of homophobic and racist slurs.
The World of Wellesley, a local nonprofit diversity organization, and its President, Michelle Chalmers, coordinated with a number of community institutions and individuals to successfully lead this event last week on July 28. Among those who also took part were the Superintendent of Wellesley Public Schools and the High School Principal, Wellesley College and its Centers for Women and also its Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, Temple Beth Elohim, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Wellesley Village Church, Unitarian Universalists of Wellesley (UUW), Wellesley Recreation Department, Babson College, Wellesley Public School students, Friends of Wellesley METCO, family and members of the Wellesley Police as well as many more groups and organizations.
At the Solidarity Gathering on the grounds of the Wellesley Town Hall, there were numerous parents and educators from in and around Wellesley. Approximately 100 people attended, including Lussier, Chisum and Ellen Gibbs from the Board of Selectman. Attendees describe it as “energetic” and “where everyone was engrossed in conversation.” While some Wellesley residents expressed concern over the outcome of the pending investigation by the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. David Lussier, and WHS Principal, Jamie Chisum, about the “alleged racial/ethnic harassment and hate speech,” others from neighboring towns such as Framingham and Needham commented on the national-political currents of discussing race and racism and wondered whether social media served as a tool to fan existing embers into flames; specifically, how battling racism is akin to fighting a ghost. Many Wellesley parents who attended the Solidarity Gathering seemed to be in agreement that the Superintendent and WHS Principal reacted “swiftly and appropriately” to address the situation.
“I have full confidence that the WPS administration will find out what exactly happened and handle it appropriately,” said Kari Sciera, a Wellesley Middle School educator who has taught fitness and health for over a decade. She also made mention of the consistent, cultural competence training that all WPS educators undergo annually, which she feels helps the school system as a whole to maintain its “core values of respect for human differences, cooperative and caring relationships, and commitment to community.”
In a letter sent out to WHS parents and students, Lussier and Chisum not only addressed the alleged racial/ethnic harassment and hate speech but also reminded the community of said core values and called for community support: “we will work diligently to ensure that our schools continue to be safe and productive learning environments for ALL students. As always, we will work with our community partners in the days ahead to meet this charge. We plan to share specific action steps we will be taking together as we move ahead in this process. We thank you in advance for helping to underscore these important messages to our students and to our entire community.” Although the end of June sealed the 2015-16 academic year, by statute, any action that impedes or affects learning and the learning environment falls within the Superintendent of Schools’ jurisprudence.
The new President of Wellesley College, Paula A. Johnson, expressed her concerns in a letter shared with the college community: “I was deeply troubled to learn that a few days ago several Wellesley High School students made racist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant remarks during a Facebook group chat,” she sad. “This goes against everything that our Wellesley College community stands for and undermines our approach to teaching and learning, which relies on the robust and safe exchange of ideas from diverse perspectives… The future of our community depends on an inclusive town community where our students, faculty, and staff can live, work, and learn in a safe and respectful atmosphere. I have reached out to Schools Superintendent David Lussier to better understand the school system’s plans to effect change and foster equity and respect among all students. We will be in conversation with the Superintendent and others- and I hope that our College community will be in conversation with one another- as we look to achieve these goals”.
Mick Hirsch, Director of Religious Education with UU Wellesley, also in a letter to members, called upon them to “recommit to the principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” He continued: “Now is the time to remind children, youth and adults that any speech which belittles, humiliates, harasses and threatens any one of our sisters and brothers is unacceptable and will be vigorously rejected.” Hirsch encouraged UUW members to attend and support the Solidarity Gathering.
The next Solidarity Gathering organized by World of Wellesley will be held on August 24 from 7- 8:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Green, 525 Washington Street, Wellesley. For more information, please go to: http://www.worldofwellesley.org.