Additional incidents of hate speech reported to administration

Joanna Chait and Hadley Carr

For the fourth time in two months, racist and antisemitic graffiti was drawn in a Wilson bathroom.

The latest hate speech was discovered in the second-floor men’s bathroom on January 27—a few days before the start of Black History Month. Within a few hours, it was reported to the administration. 

“These hate crimes go against everything we stand for at Wilson,” Interim Principal Gregory Bargemen said in the school announcements over the loudspeaker the following day. “We call upon all our students and staff members to stand up and reject this hate.”

Additionally, the Wilson administration will talk to community members at student-level and parent meetings throughout the month, according to an email to families from Bargeman sent that same day. 

Bargeman offered to personally fund a $100 reward to any student who provides information about the individual or individuals who wrote the racial slurs. Some students have since come forward and provided information, according to Wilson officials. In addition to the reward, “The DC Metropolitan Police Department Youth Division and Wilson High School are investigating the incident by gathering pertinent information,” Bargeman wrote in an email on January 28. The person responsible for the acts has yet to be identified. 

The string of incidents began in early December when four swastikas and other racist language were drawn on the bathroom stall. An investigation failed to determine the person who committed the vandalism. While Bargeman suggested the hate symbols could have been drawn by a student who does not attend Wilson during an SAT administration on Saturday, December 4, a student told The Beacon he saw the images at 8:05 a.m. that day. It is still possible that the responsible parties do not attend Wilson. 

However, the three additional incidents reported since December 4 would appear to increase the likelihood that a Wilson student is responsible. After the first graffiti was reported, Bargeman notified the DCPS Security School Office, MPD, the DCPS Equity Office, and Wilson’s Instructional Superintendent Kimberly Martin. 

On January 13, The Beacon found three swastikas and racist language drawn in the fourth-floor men’s bathroom and reported it to the administration. That same day, The Beacon saw that another student posted a picture of a bathroom stall door to Instagram, vandalized with the words “white power” and additional racist language. It is unclear which bathroom the graffiti was found in.

On January 17, Bargeman responded to the incident in his weekly newsletter to Wilson families. “The first step in this process is denouncing the act. Hate and bigotry have no place in our community,” he wrote.

On January 28, Bargeman sent an email to families in response to the most recent incident of hateful vandalism. “The next step is to support impacted stakeholders and promote healing,” he said. The email also listed some of the steps Wilson is taking to respond to the recent uptick in hateful vandalism. 

Television screens placed in the front entrance of the school display messages urging students to provide information to administrators to help them prevent additional cases of racist and antisemitic vandalism.

The steps included a “No Place for Hate” student video, student and faculty discussion groups, and possible discussions at grade-level parent meetings in February. The student and faculty discussion groups would be led by the Black, Jewish, and Arab student unions.

Additionally, SGA members invited students to sign a “No Place for Hate” pledge banner, currently on display in the atrium.

The incidents have been met with swift action by Wilson’s student unions, including Jewish Student Union (JSU), Black Student Union (BSU), and Arab Student Union (ASU). 

The affinity groups met with Bargeman to determine methods to address the hate speech. Following the meeting, Bargeman sent an email to the Wilson community denouncing any form of hate speech and outlining steps towards creating an inclusive school community. 

The student groups introduced other initiatives such as giving forms to students for reporting bathroom vandalism anonymously. They plan to meet again with Bargeman in the following weeks as more details emerge about the incidents. 

Bargeman is unsure as to why incidents of hate speech and symbols in the bathrooms are occurring. According to Assistant Principal Steven Miller, when the student is found, the administration has developed a plan to “help [the student] repair some of the damage they have done to the community.”

Miller added that the graffiti appeared to be created by the same person, and they are currently unsure of said person’s motive. All of the graffiti was written in black Sharpie, although whether the handwriting is similar is unclear. Many of the incidents involve swastikas. The words “white power” have been sharpied on bathrooms twice, according to photographs obtained by The Beacon. Also shown in photos has been repeated use of racist language and the “n-word.”

While Wilson has a history of antisemitic vandalism—two swastikas found in a school bathroom in December 2019—Miller noted that in the past three years, he has not seen this type or level of racist graffiti. 

“The key to preventing this from happening in the future is to catch the student responsible, and ensure that they understand and repair the damage they have done to the Wilson community,” Miller said. •