Student-led effort leads to banning of Confederate flag in Indiana high school

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By Sabrina Holcomb, original image above courtesy Edward Stojakovic (modified)

Tensions came to a head at Indiana’s Bloomington High School North when students showed solidarity with fellow students by wearing rainbow colors to school on LGBT Spirit Day. Not to be outdone, some of their classmates showed up the next day draped in Confederate flags.

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It wasn’t the first time the Confederate symbol had been displayed by their classmates, but it was the last straw for many students said members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, a student-run club that aims to improve school climate for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

GSA members took issue with drawing a false equivalency between the Rainbow flag and the Confederate flag, pointing out that one is a symbol of support and inclusion and the other represents a long history of racial violence and oppression.

“The Confederate flag was hanging behind people as they were lynched,” explains Gaia Hendrix-Petry, a student and GSA ally. “It was hanging behind those who were enslaved. It is a direct symbol of oppression and to bring that symbol of hatred into our school is unacceptable,” says Gaia, who observed students being harassed and called the “F” slur on the day of the incident.

greg-chaffin-anti-rfra-rally-at-the-indiana-statehouse
Greg Chaffin

“Students have been feeling unsafe the last two months in general and this added to it,” confides GSA student president Emma Cannon. “It felt like a message was being sent to LGBT students and students of color that their existence is not tolerated.”

“I couldn’t even eat lunch,” shares student activist Caleb Poer. “It made me sick to my stomach, that kind of thing going on around here. It’s not just me. It’s the collective feeling of everyone.”

Navigating the situation had become a balancing act for administrators, who cited the complexity of trying to juggle free speech with students’ need for a safe school environment.

“That’s why we need to have conversations about the difference between free speech and hate speech,” advocates Greg Chaffin, a school counselor and GSA advisor.

When Chaffin told the distressed students who packed into his office they had options, the students took charge, calling parents and news agencies, shooting a live video on the spot, and posting Facebook messages calling for supporters to meet them at the superintendent’s office.

Chaffin was among the group of students and educators who attended the meeting, noting that “the students were so well versed on the subject it blew people away. They were incredibly eloquent, passionate, and logically sequential,” notes the former AP Honors English teacher with pride. “They were a force to be reckoned with.”

The meeting lasted several hours, but 15 minutes after it ended, the superintendent’s staff had drafted a policy that banned the display of Confederate flags on the school campus and at school-related events.

Caleb, who attended the meeting and helped lead the charge, has received threats and attacks on social media. Yet, he still holds out hope and is participating in facilitated meetings with some of the students who wore the flag.

“We just need to hold strong,” he declares. “We’re trying to put our differences aside and work together towards a more unified school, and education and nonviolence are the key to that unity.”

“We’re making strides,” agrees Gaia, who calls the experience profound. “It empowered our student body and taught us that we have a voice in our education. I think sometimes we forget we have the power to do something about the things that need changing.”

Reader Comments

  1. Why are y’all wanting to delete my history I feel as though y’all are taking my life and putting it on death row not every white man owned slaves I have searched my family tree I am part Cherokee Indian I am part Jewish and I am part German who am I supposed to hate the white man come out here and took the land from my ancestors my ancestors put my ancestors in concentration camps shave their head’s pulled there gold teeth took everything they had put them in gas chambers put them in fire burning ovens and kill the did live experiments who do I hate should everything be taken down it’s related to that just makes absolutely no sense at all all lives matter it makes no difference of your skin color When Alex Haley made the movie roots he left out a very important part about these blacks were their own tribal chiefs sold them to the English for guns and liquor because the men were not good enough hunters to provide for their tribe the women we’re not good breeders they wanted them out because they were not a good strong stock That is in the history books how come nobody hears about that or nobody hears about the black man that owned over 200,000 black slaves to pick his cotton why is that not mentioned these are all hate crimes it’s got nothing to do with what happened back then nowhere in my family tree have we ever owned slaves nor will we ever there’s not only black slaves there’s white slaves there’s Vietnamese slaves there’s Chinese slaves right now in Africa there’s black leaders that are enslaving Black people why don’t We hart about that this is all just hatred towards white man y’all need to leave it alone and leave history alone leave it as it is and quit living in the Past all of these rioters that are destroying the cities in monuments in anything that has to do with the confederacy is being paid by the Democrats they’re being put on buses paid 15 bucks an hour and shipped to each city Nancy Pelosi went on live TV with a mascon said no we cannot vote in fear of the spread of the COVID-19 and yet two days later she gets on TV with no mask and urges every American to go out there and ride it exercise their rights this is all just to try and get Trump out of office if the Democrats make it in there will be no money there will be food shortages I can’t believe people in America really do want this that is absolutely crazy I pray that God gets his country straightened out because it don’t look like the American public can

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