On Monday, May 24th, Warde students gathered outside of the school during second period. Organized by Fairfield Warde Voices for Equity (FWVE), the Walkout for Justice was a message that the Warde community will not tolerate racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, or discrimination of any kind, and was a forum for students to share their thoughts and experiences. The student leader of FWVE Sarah Genovese opened the event referencing the racist incident on social media.
“I wanted to thank all of you for coming out here to stand in solidarity with those whose voices have been silenced for too long,” she said. “This cannot happen again, and that is why we stand up for change.”
The event was large, hundreds of students poured out of the doors to the bus loop, standing to face the organizers. Teachers and staff were on the fringes of the group, including Mr. Cavanna, Ms. Campbell, and other administrators who watched and allowed the students to speak their minds. Police were present to safeguard the students, also by the sides of the group. Spread through social media the weekend before, the flyer read, “Bring posters, flags, and a loud voice.” And that they did. Audience members were enthusiastic, and clapped or chanted at almost every statement made. Although participation for the open mic started out slow, by the end of the event there was a line to speak and not enough time to accommodate everyone who wanted to share. It was powerful seeing students packed onto the bus loop, listening to their peers with compassion, or kneeling in silence and support.
There was a large range of speakers, from the more soft spoken to those who boldly spoke out against their bullies and the systemic issues that brought them there. No matter whose voice was raised, it was listened to.
“Actions speak louder than words. We can have assemblies and say we will stand by people, but what matters is actually doing something,” one student said.
Others shared personal experiences or offered solutions to make the school a more accepting environment. Messages went from a simple but strong, “Black Lives Matter” statement to stories of unacceptance because of their skin color or sexual orientation. Hazel Foley shared a particularly moving story; she and a friend walked past two boys at night, and one pulled out a knife and said, “It’s international rape day.” She said that it was the most scared she’s ever felt in her life. Seeing so many students share their stories built a trusting community and a sense of strength in numbers. One large theme was the school pride that mustangs had. Many speakers said, “I love my school and have had a pretty great experience, but…” and went on to address their issues. Health teacher Mrs. Lewis was the only teacher who spoke.
“I counted down the days until I could have my children go to Warde because it is the best place, full of diversity, and I would never want my kids to go to any other high school,” Lewis added.
The attitude of loving a school but wanting to change it to become better and safer was overwhelmingly present, as was the idea that if students band together to stop microaggressions, the school climate can change.
The attitude after the walkout was somewhat solemn after appalling stories were shared, but also somewhat hopeful.
The biggest takeaways from the walkout? That as a student body we have concerns to share, and we need to listen to each other to better understand our own shortcomings. That every time we hear a hateful comment, no matter how big or small, on social media or in real life, we must confront it.
Below are some ways that Mrs. Lewis and her health class came up with to respond to an ignorant or hateful phrase said by a friend or stranger:
- I’d rather you not say that
- Don’t say that, that’s extremely offensive
- Not cool, not funny
- What you just said can harm people
“Be kind or be quiet,” Mrs. Lewis ultimately says.
Sometimes the best solution is to calmly explain why someone’s words are inappropriate without escalating the situation. In other circumstances, walking away can help avoid an argument and send a message. If the issue is on social media, report it. That’s simple. It’s easy to support each other online by reporting offensive comments, and little steps like that can make a huge difference on the climate of our school and online community.