Asking someone out on a prom date is a rite of passage for American high schoolers. One Vandegrift student’s prom invitation sparked controversy this week, when an image from Snapchat showing a racist message was widely distributed, drawing the ire of many in the community.
The student’s sign, which said “If I was black, I'd be picking cotton, but I'm white so I'm picking U 4 prom?" appears to be a recreation of a similar poster displayed by a Florida High School student in 2018.
“We do not tolerate or permit discrimination or hate speech of any kind at Vandegrift. A preliminary investigation suggests the student intended the posting to be a humorous reenactment of a 2018 meme that garnered national attention,” Vandegrift principal Charlie Little said in a letter distributed to parents, confirming that the male student who posted the message on Snapchat is a VHS student.
“There is absolutely nothing humorous about slavery, and its use in this context goes against the values and ethical principles we teach,” Little added.
Noting that an investigation is underway, Little said, “Students alerted us about a current VHS student posting a ‘slavery pun’ on Snapchat as part of his prom proposal. We immediately began an investigation to determine the facts and impact of this incident.”
Parents and community members took to social media to discuss the incident, with many expressing anger and frustration over what some said is a rising trend of “racist behavior” in recent years.
“This infuriates me. My kids go to this school and I have loved it,” said Melissa La Lennan, who identified herself as a Vandegrift parent on a Facebook group.
La Lennan went on to say in her post that her children have been complaining about a “recent influx of racist remarks. Not sure why or what’s fueling it. But it’s just not ok.”
Other parents were sympathetic, and most suggested that the behavior starts at home.
“How a child behaves is almost always a product of what they are taught/not taught at home,” offered one parent, adding that she hoped the parents weren’t teaching that such behavior is acceptable, but parents should take also responsibility to teach what is not acceptable.
“The simple fact that people think this is a joke, whether in poor taste or not, is exactly the problem,” another parent, Lori Cole, posted. “Seems like discussions need to be had at the school that should include both the kids AND the parents.”
Yet more parents questioned why the school needed to “investigate” the incident.
Little’s letter helped address that concern, stating that the school began an investigation to determine the “facts and impact of” the incident. He noted that “while inappropriate and disturbing, the student did not direct this unacceptable message at a particular individual with the intent to harass, bully or discriminate.”
The principal’s letter said the school is working within its student code of conduct to apply appropriate discipline. Little went on to ask parents to take the opportunity to discuss “the importance of responsible digital citizenship and respect for others.”
He also indicated that if any student has additional concerns or has experienced discrimination, they should contact a school counselor to obtain the “appropriate support.”
Like many parents, La Lennan’s post indicates she agreed with Little’s suggestion to parents.
“Parents… have a freaking conversation with your kids,” La Lennan posted. “Even if you don’t think they would say something like that. Talk to them anyway.”