Incidents involving substitute teacher call issues of racism to attention

Ian Proctor, Staff Writer

LHS is a majority-white school according to the Oregon Department of Education, and it isn’t surprising that students experience racist incidents and microaggressions. An example of this was earlier this year, when LHS students were subject to racial attacks and aggressions by a substitute teacher in English classes.

The substitute teacher uttered racial slurs during a Junior English class discussion of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald; he had strayed from the lesson plans about the 1920s and Harlem Renaissance and reportedly displayed blackface imagery while using the degrading language to refer to black people. 

Veronica Burgos, Spanish teacher and LHS’s Black Student Union adviser, was alerted to the incident by several of her students who had experienced the incident firsthand.

Burgos was approached by several students who let her know what had happened, and then referred it to the administration. 

Vice Principal Kristen Colyer was asked about the incident. 

“We are deeply disappointed that such an incident occurred within our building from an adult who is coming in lieu as a substitute teacher in the classroom,” said Colyer. “It is not acceptable at all for anyone to use any sort of racist comments, or words or actions towards students or people in our building.”

“I can also add that we are working with the district human resources to support our substitutes, and we are providing professional development around equity within our buildings. We are teaching our substitutes about microaggressions, about perspective, about the work that we’re doing that is inclusive to all of our students, and grounding them on the work that we believe is essential to support our students.” 

The administration ultimately took over the response to the incident. The Black Student Union was grateful for the response, but that it would gain more exposure and call attention to how frequent racist incidents can be.

“Ultimately what the Black Student Union, when they discussed the incident, would’ve liked to have happened is for the whole school to know that [racist incidents] like this do happen, and these things do occur,” said Burgos. “They wanted to create awareness about this specific incident, and several others that have popped up in our schools & community.”

The substitute was working for the day in English teacher Joanna Stein’s classes. Once Stein received notice of what happened, she notified administrators and parents, and spoke to her classes. The students corroborated what had happened. 

So, if a Pacer is met with racism, or is targeted by racism, what should they do? 

“I would like to encourage them to come to the BSU if they have experiences with [racism] and they feel like they want a safe group to talk to,” said Burgos. “It’s not just for black students either. The people who come to BSU are from a variety of different cultures and skin tones; black, brown, Asian, Pacific Islander. We have many students from a variety of different cultures that come to share time with us.”

Black Student Union isn’t simply “a club” exclusively for people of black heritage, or just to highlight black and brown culture in a positive light; it is a resource for everyone of every background, and if a student is subject to racism or is a witness to a racist incident, it is encouraged that they stop by BSU and let them know what is going on, or for support. 

“And so, [Black Student Union’s] objective ultimately is to create awareness and make sure that everybody knows that these things are not isolated incidents, and that [racist incidents] occur more than people are aware of here,” said Burgos. 

The incident shocked students and administrators. It reminds us that racism is still present in our society today, and is an unfortunate reality for many.