More than 100 students poured out of Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester after lunch Friday to protest policies, practices, and a school culture they consider discriminatory and racist.
The walkout — three weeks in the making — was spurred by growing racial tensions at the 700-student school, organizers said, including the N-word being scrawled in the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and a student who pulled a hijab off another student’s head.
In a city where black and Latino students overwhelmingly populate charter schools, Boston Collegiate stands apart: White students make up the largest portion of the enrollment — 45 percent — followed by black students at 32 percent, and Latino students at 18 percent. The school serves students in grades 5 through 12 in two campuses.
Very few white faces were among those students who gathered in the upper school’s parking lot along Boston Street as they chanted, “No justice, no peace.”
“This is not just a race issue; it’s a discrimination issue that has been going on too long,” said Arianna Constant-Patton, 17, a junior who helped organized the walkout, as she spoke before the students.
The gathering at times reflected the racial tensions at the school.
Although some students who remained inside the building held up signs supportive of the walkout, other students inside appeared to be laughing at the protesters, agitating them.
“You people laughing in the window, it’s not funny,” one of the organizers, Franchesca Peña, 17, a junior, yelled up to them. “Everyone turn around and look at them.”
Some students voiced frustration that those who supported them inside the building were not outside with them. Others thanked them for their support regardless.
Among the issues that students said they were protesting: discriminatory dress code policies, teacher diversity disparities, and the school’s inaction and lack of progress in response to racist attacks on students and the lack of inclusive culture for students of color.
The students made several demands to improve the racial climate at the school, which included revising the dress code to allow students to wear cultural head wraps, purchasing more textbooks that reflect the students’ diverse backgrounds, hiring more teachers of color, creating more courses that are culturally relevant to students, and forming a “task force that will lead the charge and keep the school accountable for their actions.”
Administrators and teachers were supportive of the walkout and, like the protesters, wore black. Several teachers accompanied the students. Among them was the school’s executive director, Shannah Varón.
“I’m proud of them,” said Varón, who is Latina. “They are on the front line of pushing for the changes they want to see in the world and we want to work with them.”
The school has been taken steps this fall to address the issues students have been raising, Varón said.
Just this week, the school held a community forum on Monday and sent a letter to families Thursday outlining seven action steps. Some of those steps include hiring an equity consultant to do a deep dive on race issues at the school, help staff have conversations with students about race, support student activism, revisit discipline policy, help families build bridges across differences, and increase communications on these issues.
Core values at the school, Varón said, are belonging and the willingness to confront bias in one’s self and others.
But many students said they often feel unwelcome.
“Students have expressed multiple times they have felt uncomfortable in a room or in a certain situation,” said Tesean Toole Jr., 16, a junior, referring to such incidents as other students using discriminatory language, including the N word. “But nothing gets done.”
In many ways, the school is a microcosm of the segregation that has defined Boston for decades, some organizers said.
“We may be a diverse school, but all the white kids hang out with the white kids, all the black kids hang out with the black kids, and all the Hispanic kids hang out with the Hispanic kids,” said Sarah Purvis, 17, a senior.
“And why is that a problem? It’s a problem because then you don’t learn about all the other cultures around you. There’s no point in having diversity if we don’t have conversations.”
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.