Lake Oswego High School students staged a walkout Tuesday morning in response to racist graffiti found in three boys bathrooms last week that targeted African-Americans.
Hundreds of students participated while a light rain fell on the school's track and football field, carrying signs with messages such as "Black Lives Matter" and "Act with Love."
Senior Camryn Leland, a reporter for the school's Lake Views newspaper, and Senior Class Publicities Director Shannon Kehoe spoke over a loudspeaker to the crowd about the challenges that the school is facing and how students will rise to meet them. Kehoe said the walkout was a show of solidarity against racism.
"I urge you to defy racism and smash prejudice," Kehoe told the crowd.
Leland said she feels anger "boil inside" as one of the few black students on campus, where she feels people may sometimes pacify her instead of listening to the message she has to share.
"Every time you sit on your hands and hope that something horrible like this will go away on its own, you're siding with injustice," she said.
Leland and other students had the full cooperation of school officials and Lake Oswego School District administrators for the event and did not get in trouble for leaving class. LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck said the district supported the rally.
"It reflects the gravity with which students have responded to campus incidents this year," Beck said, "and their determination to speak out against racism, reject insensitivity and embrace respect for diversity."
Leland told The Review on Monday that students don't like the way their school has developed a reputation as unwelcoming to other races and cultures. She said the school newspaper is duty bound to report incidents such as the discovery of racist graffiti last week or risk complicity through silence, but that teens also don't want people to think LOHS is represented by the hostile vocal minority behind the discriminatory incidents.
"We're standing up against this intolerance and this hate in our school," Leland said, "and we also want to show that this is not a representation of our student body, but there's more to it than these racial injustices that we've seen."
LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson told The Review last week that graffiti containing the "n-word" was removed promptly by students who discovered the vandalism in three boys bathrooms. Dickinson and Associated Student Body President Keon Feldsien both condemned the vandalism in speeches broadcast over the school's intercom Feb. 28.
The latest incident came just a few months after two other racially motivated acts were publicly announced at the school.
In November, Dickinson said in a letter to parents that he became aware of a "deeply disturbing" post on the Class of 2017 Facebook page, "a private account managed by students." At the time, he said a poll of potential senior pranks had been created three weeks earlier on the page and included this suggestion: "We create a club called Ku-Klux-Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them."
Dickinson said no one "Liked" the post, but no one criticized it, either — until one student finally came forward and told a teacher, who told Dickinson.
The principal also said that a "disturbing example" of intolerance happened the day before Yom Kippur — one of the Jewish High Holy Days, which was observed Oct. 12 — when a picture was posted in the school cafeteria.
"It was a picture of a concentration camp victim being pushed into an oven," Dickinson said. "This caption was typed beneath the image: 'Easy Bake Oven.' An administrator found a student taking a picture of the image with his phone, not taking the picture down. The administrator took the picture down instead."
Administrators found out who posted the picture in the cafeteria and took disciplinary action, but the Facebook poster is not within the LOSD, so no action was taken against that student, Dickinson said.
Since then, the school has held a series of Laker Seminars in which students have discussed racial issues.
"Last time this happened at the beginning of the school year, the problem was not just that it happened, but that there was silence in response," Dickinson said in his announcement last week. "So many bystanders doing nothing. For many, that silence was more painful than the hurtful words themselves. I think about Martin Luther King Jr.'s line: 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'"
He continued to say that this time, students weren't silent.
"Yesterday (Feb. 27), though, so many students took it upon themselves to immediately erase what they saw, scrubbing our walls with their own hands to make it better. Student after student came in to let me know what they saw, how troubled they were, and to ask for help erasing what they could not."
The Lake Oswego Police Department was notified and is investigating the incident, Dickinson said. LOPD Sgt. Tom Hamann was on hand for the walkout on Tuesday as well.
Lake Views, the high school's student newspaper, reported the recent vandalism in an online post March 1. Leland discovered the graffiti on Snapchat, according to journalism teacher Stephanie Leben, and the newspaper subsequently organized the walkout with the help of other student leaders.
Now, students are speaking out.
"Many of us, as students and faculty in a predominately white school, have the convenience of thinking about race only when we want to," Feldsien said. "But for others, words like these are a daily message, one that threatens and isolates. This graffiti is not funny, it is not daring or edgy. It is wrong. Everyone listen carefully: Every person has a place here at LOHS, and everyone has the right to feel welcomed and safe. "
Feldsien said that it may not be possible to end racism in one generation, but that it is important to continue to try to reach people. He said the student body and faculty at LOHS can take action, starting with acknowledging that there is a problem and participating in Laker Seminars. He also echoed what Dickinson said about not being a silent bystander.
"All of us have a collective responsibility to stand up to hate and intolerance," Feldsien said. "We are not all the problem, and I know with my heart that this is a great school. We can be better, but I need your help to do so. Ending this, I thought it fitting to quote the wise Maya Angelou: 'Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet."
He noted that Angelou also said, "Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."