Monument Mountain school community looks to address racism


GREAT BARRINGTON — Monument Mountain Regional High School's administration and student government are not letting the opportunity to learn from a recent racial controversy slip away.

"This is hard to talk about, but people are finding their voices and we are getting through this," Principal Marianne Young told the Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee.

Young joined schools Superintendent Peter Dillon and the committee recently to discuss the district's response to a recent incident that exposed what Young called "issues of racism" at the school.

The incident involved an alleged racist comment made by a white student at the school about a black varsity football player who "took a knee" during the national anthem as part of a protest against the recent killings of black men by police officers.

A Great Barrington Police Department investigation found that the incident did not meet the standard of a prosecutable offense. The accused student was disciplined by the school.

Young talked to the committee about the steps being taken by the school's administration to address the fallout from the incident.

Those steps include a seminar for freshmen on race relations in January and a one-man show, Rhapsody in Black, this Friday. The seminar and show are being sponsored by local racial justice organization Multicultural BRIDGE.

The school already has invited BRIDGE and a number of the organization's student interns from Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield and Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington to speak with members of the student government, said organization director Gwendolyn VanSant.

"We met with students," VanSant said, "and shared suggestions of restorative practices, models of race forums across the county, and white ally groups."

The meeting had an immediate effect, as the committee found out that evening.

Student Senate President Teddy Michaels and Vice President Jack Gibson told the committee they were taking action as the student representative body to work within the school community for a better sense of togetherness and awareness.

"In two weeks, we're hosting a Community Unity Breakfast in the cafeteria," Michaels said.

Michaels said the Senate will bring the student body and faculty together into the gymnasium after the breakfast to listen to speakers from diversity groups and the school community.

Looking to the future, the Senate also will form a diversity coalition within the school.

Gibson said the high school's student government also will reach out to the younger students in the district's other two schools, Muddy Brook Elementary and Monument Valley Middle School.

"These attitudes aren't spontaneous," Gibson said. "We need to get to the problem when it first comes up instead of playing catch-up after the fact."

What's next ...

The Berkshire branch of the NAACP will host an action at 7 p.m. Friday before Monument Mountain Regional High School's home football game against Belchertown.


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