With graduation looming this spring, Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau say they didn’t want to exit Boston Latin School without calling attention to students’ experiences of racial bias at the elite exam school.
So last month, they spearheaded a wide-ranging social media dialogue about the school’s racial climate, prompting a School Department investigation and moving Boston’s superintendent and mayor to action — all in less than 10 days.
“We’re about to leave, and we just really kept thinking about those who would come after us,” said Webster-Cazeau, of Hyde Park.
Few who know Noel and Webster-Cazeau were likely to be surprised that they were responsible for sparking such a conversation.
City officials and others have high praise for Noel, 17, and Webster-Cazeau, 18. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who sat down late last month with the pair and other members of the student group BLS BLACK — Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge — said he was “super-impressed with these two young women.”
Walsh described Noel and Webster-Cazeau as “very smart, very passionate,” and said he commended them for displaying leadership and speaking out about their concerns.
“Their thought process was simply, ‘We’re kids. We’re supposed to be learning; we’re supposed to be enjoying these days in our high school. We’re not supposed to be engaged in this type of controversy,’ ” Walsh said.
Noel and Webster-Cazeau contend that school administrators failed to properly discipline students who posted racist messages on Twitter in November 2014, amid discussion of a Missouri jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown.
Noel, of Roslindale, said there has since been little change in the school’s racial climate. “There’s still a culture at BLS that . . . tolerates these things,” she said.
The School Department said it could not comment on the allegations until it completes its inquiry into their claims.
Some black leaders have called for the ouster of Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta, who they say failed to act decisively in response to the tweets. The mayor stressed that the School Department investigation is ongoing but said administrators should have acted when students were first accused. He said he would support discipline if officials were found to have failed to responded appropriately.
Noel and Webster-Cazeau took their cause to the Boston School Committee at the panel’s Jan. 27 meeting, where they described a racially hostile school climate.
Superintendent Tommy Chang praised them for their activism during the meeting, drawing a parallel to black college students who began a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960.
“Kylie Webster-Cazeau and Meggie Noel, two incredible young ladies, are examples of two young leaders in our community who have demonstrated courage in voicing their concerns at one school,” Chang said, according to a transcript.
Noel and Webster-Cazeau have a higher public profile than most of their classmates, but many of their accomplishments are like those of other high-achieving students at the rigorous school — the nation’s oldest public school and one of its most prestigious.
Noel has tutored other students, taught violin lessons, been a camp counselor, won a Latin School poetry contest, and served as president of its gospel choir.
Webster-Cazeau is a captain of the school’s Step Squad, has participated in charity events, including the Walk for Hunger, and was one of 17 students who took on government internships last summer through the school’s John William Ward Public Service Fellowship.
She worked for Rachel Madden, undersecretary of the state’s Executive Office for Administration and Finance, who said in an interview last August that Webster-Cazeau was “exceptional.”
“The personality is wonderful,” she said of Webster-Cazeau. “The approach and enthusiasm to whatever we ask is. . . invigorating to all of us.”
Noel impressed Boston Globe staff during a 2014 internship. Helen Morissette, an administrative assistant who helped select and oversee the interns, said Noel never rested.
“If she didn’t have some work to do, she would go find something to do,” Morissette said.
Amanda Katz, an editor, said Noel worked quickly and professionally with little supervision. “Meggie was someone who just came in here already seeming like . . . we could have hired her the next day,” Katz said. “It was just very hard to grasp that she was a teenager. . . . Our joke was, ‘It’s clear that we’re all going to be working for Meggie someday.’ ”
Both teens say they plan to continue their activism after graduating from Latin School.
Noel said she wants to become a civil rights lawyer, and Webster-Cazeau, whose father is a Boston police officer, said she plans to study criminal justice in college and possibly become a forensic psychologist or an attorney.
“I’ll always advocate for myself,” Webster-Cazeau said, “and for other people who can’t advocate for themselves.”