May 7, 2004

Meeting Discusses High School Race Tensions

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Cornell Students joined Ithaca High School students and community members yesterday to discuss and clarify the racial issues that have arisen at Ithaca High School throughout the past year.

The forum, entitled “Speak Up, Reach Out”, was sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in an effort to bring both the Cornell and Ithaca communities together in hope of finding a solution to conciliate the racial problems present at the high school.

“There has been a great deal of miscommunication and this forum serves as a good chance to unify both communities, Ithaca and Cornell,” said Kyessa Moore ’04, corresponding secretary of Alpha Kappa Alpha. “Perhaps we can find a way to improve things.”

A number of prominent race-related conflicts have occurred at the school during the course of the last year. What started as racial banter between black and white groups of students escalated to racially offensive graffiti, death threats and fights.

Eldrid Harris J.D. ’94, a member of the steering committee for the city of Ithaca, opened the forum by giving a brief overview of year’s conflicts. Harris grouped the events into two categories: specific instances and general climate issues. The specific instances that had occurred at IHS included the graffiti, KKK drawings and paraphernalia, and swastikas that were “targeted at specific peoples.”
Harris elaborated on the general climate issues when he described an instance in which 80 to 150 white students came to school dressed in camouflage in response to racial slurs exchanged earlier.

“These instances have led to problems between black students and white students,” Harris said. “[The camouflage wearing] was to send a message to the black urban kids not to take over our school.”

Prof. Stel Whitehead, Africana studies, spoke for the forum as a parent of a student who has received multiple death threats throughout the school year. Whitehead spoke in defense of students who felt that the real issues were being distorted through the media.

In particular, Whitehead spoke of a fight that had occurred March 23 between a group of white students and black freshmen. Whitehead said that while only five white students were arrested for severely beating their black classmates, students had informed her that a total of 15 white students partook in the fight. “Kids are shocked that the facts they know aren’t being presented,” Whitehead said.

In an effort to clarify the real racial tensions and sequence of events at IHS, senior students volunteered to come to the forum to share their opinions and experiences.
Cherno Jagne, a senior at IHS, described an incident in which he arrived at school one day to find “KKK” written in chalk across his locker.

“Because of [the offensive racial graffiti], I have gotten so mad that I’ve gone home for the day,” said Jagne.
While the IHS administration has taken action to prevent the continuance of racial conflict, individuals on the forum suggested options in order to apprehend the culprits and eradicate the racial divide.

Jaqueline Multin Scott, a teacher at IHS, stressed the importance of Cornell students becoming involved in the Ithaca community and the lives of the high school students.

“The students try to be like you,” Scott said.

Scott said that Cornellians who integrate themselves with the local community will provide guidance and leadership that will help IHS students stay focused on their goals.

Archived article by Carl Menzel
Sun Staff Writer