Student groups advocate for change

Deirdre de Leeuw den Bouter, Charlie Reeves

Antisemitic and racist vandalism found in the fourth-floor boys bathroom in December sparked collaboration between the Jewish Student Union (JSU), Black Student Union (BSU), Arab Student Union (ASU), and Interim Principal Gregory Bargeman. 

The student groups met with Bargeman on January 11. Together they came up with next steps to respond to the recent incidents of hate speech. Bargeman and the student unions agreed to organize a collection of student-led seminars, one of the biggest goals of the groups heading into their meetings with Bargeman.

The three student unions held meetings on December 30 and January 10 prior to speaking with Bargeman. All three groups wanted to go in prepared to explain their collective goals. 

JSU co-leader Zoe Goldman said that meeting with the other students was hugely beneficial and helped develop some of her ideas.

 “When addressing administration, having clarity and framework is important,” Myles Bell, co-leader of the BSU, added. 

Founder of the ASU, junior Karam Weigert, explained the clear frustrations coming from all three student unions during their meeting with Bargeman. “Past administrations have always failed to have effective responses to hate speech at Wilson. The meeting was necessary for the administration to hear that we as a student body find hate speech to be despicable, and that it has absolutely no place at our school,” he said.

All three affinity groups and their leaders found that getting the Wilson community engaged in proper recognition and understanding of hate speech should be a major priority. “We need tangible solutions in the building. Ones that we’re able to point to and say “this is the way we are trying to solve this problem,” Bell said.

The leaders mentioned the takeaways from their meeting with Bargeman. Their proposals were largely welcomed. Weigert’s takeaways from the meeting were solution-focused. “Our proposal, in simplified terms, is to have multiple student union-led seminars available, in which we’ll discuss hate symbols, their history, and modern applications,” Weigert said.

Bell explained that a key component in making these changes long lasting is ensuring that students are “truly being a part of Wilson, and not just going to the school.” The group leaders urged that students must act as a body who respects each other and engages in open, straightforward communication that confronts bias head-on.

On January 17, Bargeman sent an email to the school community stating that more hateful words and symbols have been found in Wilson. The email denounced hate speech and explained that the administration reported the incident to DCPS, who involved the MPD. 

Three steps were outlined in the message sent out to the school community: a “No Place for Hate” student campaign, student and faculty discussion groups, and possible discussions at grade-level parent meetings in February. The student and faculty seminars will be led by the Black, Jewish, and Arab student unions.

As of January 28, Bargeman announced that seminars will begin to be held periodically. These seminars will likely include randomly selected students. JSU, ASU, and BSU held a seminar test run for representatives of each affinity group on January 3 to prepare for their discussions on the recent incidents of hate symbols, hate speech, microaggressions, and identity. 

“Acts of vandalism are so often brushed under the rug,” Goldman said. “We took the situation and ran with it, and thankfully we did, because now we’re seeing real progress, especially after working with Mr. Bargeman.” •