Summit aims to ease racial tensions High school students discuss fall incident

April 04, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Nov. 13 is still fresh in the minds of the 100 South Carroll High School students who assembled yesterday for a leadership conference intended to soothe long-standing racial tensions at the school.

That was the day that about 20 white students showed up at the school waving Confederate flags from their pickup trucks. Some of them wore shirts with the words "You wear your X, I'll wear mine," referring to Malcolm X and the crossed bars of the Confederate banner.

The racial tension continues, and students said the conference is -- at best -- only one step toward improvement.

"I don't think the next day everything is going to be perfect," said Nate Gazurian, a freshman and one of the majority white students at the school.

Despite the workshops -- in which 100 students picked by school staff actively discussed everything from racism to sexual harassment -- most students will retain their prejudices, he said.

Still, he said, "If everybody tells them what they think, every day, eventually, it's gotta sink in."

Principal David Booz, speaking after the conference, said it was the culmination of work he and other school staff started in December to deal with the aftermath of the November crisis.

It will not be the last such conference, said Mr. Booz, who would like at least one a year. The students at yesterday's conference will meet again in about two weeks and be asked to come up with ideas on how to promote racial harmony at South Carroll.

"If we lay a good foundation this year, just to build on the thinking process, that will be good," Mr. Booz said.

The wounds from November's incident have barely healed. No fights erupted, but students and school officials both said they were frightened to see things go that far. "Our school was grossly embarrassed by all of that," Mr. Booz said of the incident.

Yesterday, several white and black students expressed equal outrage.

"I was starting to cry, it was so sad," said April Stephenson, a freshman who is white.

She said at least one or two of the students from the Confederate-flag crowd attended the conference, too -- but doubted they would express their deepest feelings. "There are too many teachers around. They know they'd get in trouble real quick," April said.

South Carroll has 1,338 students -- just 25 of them are black. The black students varied in their assessments of racism at the school.

Massieka Holness, a junior who is black, estimated that half the students have racist beliefs, even if they don't vocalize them. In the tense days leading to Nov. 13, she was addressed by a white student who used a racial slur. "Carroll County is a white racial colony, and they're not used to having black people around," Massieka said.

Jaydin Camacho has been the target of slurs directed at her Hispanic background.

"I came down here from New York," said Jaydin, also a freshman. "I thought it would be better. It turned out the racial tension was much worse."

Although the school has seen nothing as dramatic since that day in November, several students said that now and then someone will show up with a Confederate T-shirt or belt buckle, an emblem that many find offensive.

Many of those at yesterday's conference said that the gathering was a good idea but that few of the students who have voiced racist views appeared to have attended.

Tim Gamber, a white freshman, said he and the other students were expected to take what they got from the conference and "teach" their friends.

"I'm not going to tell them how to think or what to do," he said. "I just don't think it's right to tell someone how they should feel."

Freshman Robby Kesler, who is white, was more enthusiastic. "I'm going to try to make a difference," he said. "If someone is picking on someone else, I might step in and say, 'Excuse me, leave him alone.' "

Pub Date: 4/04/96

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